ask the readers: my business partner’s wife corners people at events and won’t stop talking

I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. Here’s the letter:

I’ve been in business with my business partner for a decade, and there has been a recurring theme that is the source of all kinds of problems for me, our employees, and even my spouse: his spouse.

My business partner’s wife takes over every social interaction or conversation. She talks incessantly about herself and every response is a redirect to talk herself. She literally doesn’t take a breath once she starts and will keep people captive for hours. People just have to build up the courage to walk away because she won’t stop talking and she never lets the other contribute to the conversation. It’s visibly awkward for everyone involved and it seems to be the elephant in the room at any company outing.

She is always at four events every year (three quarterly parties and a year-end annual party). The company is semi-distributed (we have two official offices and a few purely remote people) so these events are the times everyone in the company is physically together during the year, and generally spouses attend as well. We are a small company (fewer han two dozen people) in case that is useful contextual information.

My wife and I started to politely decline social get-togethers with them years ago because it was always a one-sided affair, but I’m unsure how to approach this situation with regard to work-related gatherings or even if I should. My wife doesn’t want me to ruffle feathers on this topic with my partner, but the alternative of leaving our employees to suffer their boss’s wife seems puts me in a position of knowingly making everyone loathe company events, which are supposed to be celebratory.

What advice would offer to myself or others who find themselves in this situation? Either from a peer/partner or from an employee/boss perspective?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 402 comments… read them below }

  1. hiptobesquare*

    I would speak with your partner, as delicately as humanly possible. It also may be an idea to have one or two of the yearly gatherings be a “teambuilding” event, sans spouses.

    1. Doodle*

      +1 to this. Or, if these are the only times everyone can get together, it would be good to have at least some of them be employees only. Maybe make two events (winter/summer?) for spouses/families and the others for employees only?

      Though if the business partner’s wife thinks she should still come to all as an owner’s wife, you’d just be diluting the pool of other people to talk to…

    2. this*

      I was going to suggest that at least one of the events be employees only. Especially as you have remote employees they might appreciate one time a year to connect with the other employees without worrying about the spouses.

    3. So Very Anonymous*

      I was thinking about having at least one of the yearly gatherings be spouse-free, too. I would imagine that spouses don’t necessarily want to be at four events per year anyway — even more so if it means having to spend the time either tolerating or actively dodging the wife.

      Could you introduce some ice-breaker-type activities that would get people talking to others besides the wife? You’d need to make sure there was some rotation so that one group of people weren’t always with the wife (#beenthere).

      But that said, I think you probably need to talk with your partner about this. Captain Awkward may have some scripts that you could adapt — I remember one about a roommate who dominated conversations, though I’m having trouble finding it in the archives.

      1. Introverted Employee*

        Don’t you think that in addition to making at least one annual event be spouse free, they should consider not having so many parties/celebrations?
        I understand that these partners are doing this *for* the employees, but it isn’t taking into account that not all employees enjoy company parties – at least those outside working hours. 4 a year? That’s one party every 3 months. A party that, while optional to attend I would think, is mandatory in the employees mind. In a company of that size, it will be noticed if you miss one.
        I know that I am not alone in dreading any company party outside of office hours. I go to work to earn a living and while there I enjoy the company of my co-workers. However, any time outside of work is *mine* and I prefer to spend that time on things I choose and enjoy, even if it’s reading a book or playing with my dog. I would greatly resent having to show up on my time every quarter.
        That said, they could have one annual company party and turn those other 3 celebrations into a potluck during office hours, a during office hours day of fun to include bowling, pizza, happy hour. Additionally, it’s possible that some employees are suffering financially – give an annual bonus check even if only a couple hundred dollars, something I would appreciate FAR more than attending a party during off-time.

        1. Tuesday*

          I had the same thought. Four parties a year sounds like a lot to me. Maybe reducing the number of company parties isn’t reasonable for some reason, and doing so doesn’t really solve the problem, but if it is possible it would at least reduce spouse’s-wife fatigue to an annual or semi-annual nuisance.

        2. Sparrow*

          Yeah, my office does two gatherings a year (one is employees only during work hours and one is with families, outside work hours) and that is plenty. But I’m also an introvert and fiercely protective of my free time.

    4. Sadsack*

      I don’t see how talking to the business partner will go well, no matter how delicately you put it. Best bet is to get better at just walking away. Start completely interrupting her to say “Sorry to interrupt, but I see Justin from the Houston branch over there and really have been needing to speak to him.”. Walk away. Do not wait for a break in her spiel that will never come and do not wait to walk away once you have said it. Tell others to do the same. It seems rude, but she is being rude and there are only so many ways to end it.

        1. 42*

          Why on earth go through all of these silly contortions and tip-toeing?? The partner and spouse are adults, treat them as such.

          1. Introverted Employee*

            Being an adult – as defined by reach age 18 – does not automatically equate to emotional intelligence. I find that more people need to be tip-toed around and have issues be approached in a circuitous manner. I would say few people are able to handle direct criticism, even if gentle, or commentary.

              1. Mookie*

                How delightfully bootstrappy. Orchestrating a public embarrassment to “teach” adults something — in the scheme of things, a minor “something” — is not kind, advisable, or helpful, and will not be looked upon as such.

        2. Annonymouse*

          I’d send out an email to the employees (not the other owner obviously) saying it’s ok to walk away from the owners wife, that’s what you do and it’s not rude if she traps you in a monologue.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            I can’t imagine this not getting back to the owner and him not being justifiably embarrassed and angry if you haven’t cleared it with him before him.

        3. Chaordic One*

          This is how we dealt with the boss’s wife at Dysfunctional Teapots, Ltd. We took turns listening to her in 20 minute shifts. It was like someone put a nickel in her and she wouldn’t stop blathering. It was good practice for socially awkward people who had trouble striking up a conversation because she would do all the work. All you had to do was nod, and offer an occasional interjection. Something benigng like, “Really?,” “Oh, my!,” “That’s wonderful!,” “That’s terrible,” “How awful,” “Imagine that!,” “I would never have thought of that!”

        4. Tavie*

          When I was a kid and we’d have friends over the house, we worked out a signal for them to use when rescue was needed. (It was the Carol Burnett ear-pulling thing, not very original but it saved my friends many times from being caught in the vortex of my dad’s self-aggrandizing lectures.)

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        The problem is that OP, as the Partner (co-owner), can do that easily. He is more concerned on behalf of his Jr employees and their spouses.

        1. Sadsack*

          Yeah, I get that. I am thinking that everyone should just agree to do this, but I am not sure OP should have a conversation about the wife with employees. Even as an employee, this is the tactic I would try to use though. This and total avoidance. But I guess that’s hard when there are only twelve people in a room!

      2. H.C.*

        Agreed. Talking to the partner is probably not going to be productive; it’ll be awkward at best & offensive at worst.

        Everyone should be able to excuse themselves from the conversation as needed (restroom break? refreshing their drinks/plates? take a [pretend] phone call?) If absolutely needed, you (or whoever you delegate) can run interference and either pull the employee and/or the wife away.

        Or, as others suggested, have spouse-free employee-only events.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        I’m sure partner know how much wife likes to talk. This discussion my be offensive but necessary. Failing to address it will only result in an explosion later on. That explosion will probably leave things in a permanently fractured state.
        The OP needs to addres this with the partner because OP is of equal status. This is harming the business so has to be discussed.
        Emphasize to partner that the employees don’t have the stays to walk away from the wife.
        Work with partner about finding solutions.

      4. Blueismyfavorite*

        I agree. She is being rude by searching out an ear. She is only thinking of her own needs without a thought to the needs of others. Do NOT talk to the business partner about it because that won’t do anything but make him feel bad and harm his opinion of the person bringing it up.

        Speak to the wife on your own terms and have an exit strategy prepared. Approach her to say hello and don’t wait for her to corner you. Be prepared with an excuse of why you have to end the conversation. If it comes down to it and your attempts to extricate yourself haven’t worked, put your hand on her arm and say, “Sally, excuse me but I must speak to Bob, now,” then walk away. Do not allow yourself to be held hostage! She’s being rude and you don’t have to just stand there and take it.

        Also, you can warn the people you manage that she’s a talker. My boss did that for me with one of our volunteers. He said something like, “Stan is great and he does a lot for us but I want to warn you he talks a lot so be prepared.” I appreciated the warning and went into the conversation prepared with an out.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah, people have to learn to say, “That’s great, Jane! Whoops there’s Sue, I have to talk to her. Good to see you, Jane!” Talk right over whatever she is saying and walk away.

            1. Erica*

              Hell, if this is a thing that happens EVERY TIME I see her, I’d very quickly develop the habit of just slipping away silently to get a drink / get a snack / join another conversational group. It’s not like she’s expecting a verbal response from me; and I’d be pretty sure she wouldn’t even notice.

              If she did ask where I was going, I’d just say something like “Oh, you seemed busy and I need to talk to Jane. I’ll catch you later!”

              I DO think modeling “escape” behavior would be beneficial for your employees too, if they’re uncertain. Warning the employees about her would be nice too, because it lets them know that you’re not oblivious to how it affects them, and gives them permission to bail without worrying about how it looks to the boss.

              However: you’ve known your partner and his wife for a decade. Presumably you have at least had to handle some tough situations with your partner before, and have a solid working relationship with him, if not his wife too. So, IF you have a good relationship with the wife, I’d bring it up with her directly, in particular mentioning how employees are affected by the unequal power dynamic of employee vs. boss’s wife. If you don’t have the kind of relationship where you can be that direct with her, after a decade I hope you have that kind of relationship with your partner, so be direct with him.

              If for some reason it’s not viable to be direct with either of them, only then would I move onto modeling escape plans for your employees.

    5. EddieSherbert*

      I think this is the best suggestion – I’m not sure it’s worth making a big deal of it, since it’s only a few times a year (and, like many folks, I usually expect some awkwardness at work functions). Cutting it back to twice a year might be nice – and (100% voluntary!) team building can be nice too.

    6. 42*

      Agreed. Have the talk.

      OP: Please rethink talking to your partner. It’s possible that your partner already endures the spouse’s tendency to never shut up on a *personal* level–and after years and years has just become numb to it.

      Your partner would want to be aware of how pervasive her incessant talking is, and how it is now affecting your business. “I want to tell you something that is difficult to say/may be hard to hear/, but I need to make you aware of how this is now affecting our employees/impacting our business.”

      She’s a good person I’m sure, but people like that are exhausting. I see it as more harmful to keep your partner in the dark…if he isn’t *really* seeing this for himself.

      No need to say that she’s sucking all the air out of the room, but in more of a tone that you’re telling him this out of respect for him as a partner in business.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I agree. Because I’m sure people are already doing the walkaway/excuse me thing and she’ll never get the message this way. It’s better if Op and some employees get better at saying things like “oh excsue me I wasnt finished” or “hold on a moment Jane, Jake and I speaking about the Abc project before you came over and would like to wrap that up”. My examples aren’t great but you get the idea. This woman sounds like my mother- no listening only waiting to talk.
        (The mean part of me wants someone to slip her a valium in her drink)

      2. MillersSpring*

        I agree. I’d approach it first by speaking to the partne, e.g. that they need to stop bringing spouses because it’s derailing the objective–for employees to socialize and build relationships. If the partner is reasonable, then explain that his wife is monopolizing conversations.

        If that isn’t possible, I’d start coaching employees on how to get away from the wife once she starts droning on. Miss Manners has great advice: hold up your hand (as if to say halt), and say “Excuse me, I need to freshen my drink/excuse myself/mingle with others/find someone/help with the food/etc. Enjoy the party.”

    7. Q*

      This is what I was thinking too except since she is the partner’s wife she’d probably try to tagalong anyway. The partner needs to step up and tell her to stop taking over all of the conversations.

    8. Althea*

      This is my thought, but specifically talk to him about how he thinks others should handle her behavior. “I have sometimes been in conversations with your wife where I couldn’t get in a word. She has a way of talking that makes it hard to converse or interrupt. What would you suggest I do when in that situation that would not offend her but still help me to speak or break off the conversation?”

      Maybe he’ll be offended, but I think it’s likely he’ll know what you’re talking about. He’s also the person to know how she’ll react to different things.

      I have a friend whose mother is this way. After a 30 min breathless monologue about tomatoes with no end in sight, I asked my friend how to handle it. She said the whole family just interrupts and shushes her. She is aware of the issue but it’s too ingrained in her way of speaking – she won’t be offended at interruptions, but she won’t change either! I was glad I asked, because I would never, ever interrupt and shush someone.

      If you get good advice, give your employees the same and permission to follow it!

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Ugh, it drives me BANANAS when there’s an expectation that you’ll just interrupt someone and/or tell them to stop talking. It feels like the talker is abdicating their responsibility to actually pay any attention to the people they’re talking to.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          THIS. I know some people who are like this, and they’ll say, “Oh, just tell me if I’m being annoying”. It’s your job to make sure you aren’t annoying, not mine! Pay attention, act like an adult, and do better.

    9. cobweb collector*

      No, I’m sorry. You cannot speak to a business partner about their spouse in a negative way. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Can you imagine if a colleague talked to you about how they found your spouse annoying? Whether it was to complain about something you were aware of or not, it would be terribly awkward and put you in a position between a colleague and your spouse. And when that happens, family ALWAYS comes first. Don’t go there. Not now, not ever.

      On the other hand, making some of the events employees only is a great idea.

      1. 42*

        You’re not saying “HEY. Your spouse is annoying.” You’re treating this as an adult business owner speaking to your adult business co-owner about an issue that is directly impacting your employees–who are currently, in the OP’s own words, “suffering their boss’s wife” and potentially “loathing company events”.

        As I said above, frame it as a conversation that is difficult to say or may be difficult to hear, but the OP spells out that he is now seeing himself as in a position of *knowingly* making everyone have to deal with her, and that’s why he came here for advice.

      2. myswtghst*

        Yeah, you probably shouldn’t speak to a business partner about their spouse in a negative way, but I think you can certainly speak to them in a constructive way, especially if their behavior is negatively impacting the business / your employees.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          And sometimes you have to. I can think of other instances where a partner has to be told X before the business implodes. Granted the business is not going to immediately fall down here, but they may have difficulty retaining employees.

          Business partners can end up talking about everything with each other. So I don’t think that there is any hard set rules about what cannot be a topic of conversation. If something is impacting the business/workplace then the partners must deal. It’s not really a choice, if they want their business to thrive.

  2. Leatherwings*

    How does your business partner respond to their wife? Is it something they don’t notice or do they ignore it? I think you’re the only person who can speak to your business partner about it, and I think you have to bring it up.

      1. Gaara*

        For sure! This is a real problem that can’t just be ignored, and those are the only people who can have either conversation – you with him, and him with her.

    1. designbot*

      I agree that observing them together will help set the tone for the conversation. If you think he knows it himself, it becomes more “I think you know that Sally has a tendency to carry on a bit, and it’s impacting our staff’s enjoyment of these get-togethers. I think it would be a really benefit to the company if you would address this with her, maybe giving her some coaching or develop a signal for when she’s gone on too long?”

      If you don’t think he knows, bring it up more gently and just ask him to observe her the next time she’s at a function like this, and observe the people she’s talking to, noting their body language, perceived comfort level, level of engagement (are they contributing to the conversation or is it primarily one-directional?), etc. Once he notices he’ll most likely come to the rescue himself, but even if not the first step is to get him to notice.

      1. Ashie*

        I agree with most of what you’ve said here, bit “giving [your wife] some coaching” sounds really paternalistic and gross.

        1. designbot*

          I’m sorry if it came off that way–I was thinking about it just from the perspective that if one spouse has a high level career that requires social support from their spouse, they may occasionally need to direct that spouse if they don’t get it. My husband for example behaves in a way at his company functions that would mortify me if he ever exhibited at my company’s functions–we’ve talked about this, and it helped.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Surely he’s aware of it but has learned to tune her out at home or be “busy”. But he probably doesn’t realize how it’s impacting the employees.

  3. Koko*

    If I were one of the employees at the company, I wouldn’t care enough/be bothered by this enough that it would be worth OP expending any social capital confronting her about it. She’s annoying and a bit of a boor, but it’s 4 nights a year, she’s not being abusive or cruel, she doesn’t seem to have any real power over the employees that would make them fear her. Just let her be annoying, we all deal with annoying people in all facets of our lives.

    If anyone was going to say something to her, I think it would have to be her spouse, and it would have to be because *he* was genuinely concerned that it was making employees so uncomfortable that it was damaging to the business. If it’s just him passing on someone else’s concerns without believing them himself it won’t be effective.

    The only thing you could maybe do – and I don’t even think this is probably necessary – is maybe to discreetly talk to your employees one on one and tell them, “Hey, I know Boss’s Wife can sometimes be a bit long-winded. I don’t want you to feel like you’re obligated to politely listen to her for as long as she’s talking when we’re at the party. It’s OK to politely excuse yourself and you won’t be in trouble for doing so.” But I would only do that if you really suspect that the employees are genuinely afraid of being punished if they don’t listen to her, and they’re also genuinely more than a little annoyed by her. Otherwise even doing this I think will just invite more drama than people having to listen to a motormouth four times a year. Most people have to put up with way worse in their jobs.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I beg to differ. For introverts and/or socially awkward people (not mutually exclusive), this is literally the stuff of nightmares; being stuck in a social interaction with someone who is pushy, boundary-ignorant, and clueless. Even if she is a perfectly nice person, she’s also the boss’ wife, and that’s intimidating on its own.

      1. Koko*

        I am a deeply introverted and socially awkward person myself. But I can still steel myself up for four nights a year with advance warning to mentally prepare myself. It’s not ideal, but I just don’t think it rises to the level that OP should risk creating conflict with his business partner, making his business partner feels like everyone hates his wife, etc. That has the potential to make the environment a lot worse for his employees than dealing with the wife four times a year, if it becomes “Boss is passive-aggressive with us every day of our working lives now because he found out we think his wife is annoying four times a year.”

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          True, it depends very much on the specific details, like the degree of pushiness, and the attitude/personality of the business partner, and the work environment. But at the very least the partners should come to an agreement that the employees can risk offending her (civilly and socially) without repercussions; otherwise, it’s not a healthy work environment, and people will be leaving as soon as they can get another offer.

        2. Kerry*

          Not everyone will be able to, though, and I agree that the power dynamic of her being married to their boss makes it even more uncomfortable.

          1. Anna*

            No, not everyone will, but this might be one of those situations where adults need to adult and manage their own interactions. The OP can do so much because they know there’s an issue, but there’s some responsibility on the receiver of unwanted conversation to figure out how to remove themselves.

            1. Observer*

              It’s an unfair expectation, if the staff has reason to believe that they can’t manage without being punished. Sure people can survive this, and there are worse things in life. But, as long as people don’t have the choice to walk away without being penalized it’s just unfair to lay the onus on the people who are stuck.

              So, the OP needs to find some way to insure that people can, in fact, walk away.

        3. Oryx*

          That’s good. For you. Not all introverts can do that so please don’t diminish our own experiences and limitations.

          1. Loose Seal*

            Not everyone can eat sandwiches either. Koko was explaining their background on the subject. It wasn’t meant to deny anyone else their experience.

            1. Lissa*

              I agree with Loose Seal, and I don’t see why this has to become yet another “introvert” thing. I am not an introvert and this would drive me over the wall and around the bend, but I think it is a reasonable point to think about whether or not this rises of the level of something to speak to the partner about.

              Honestly if it were me I would probably have a bunch of ready-made excuses to get out of the conversation quickly, risk being seen as rude, but likely never mention it to the business partner. But this isn’t really the best solution, probably.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                My partner the extrovert would be driven even more batty by this than I would (and I’m an introvert), because getting trapped in the corner by one person who then talks at him on and on and on would prevent him from socializing in meaningful ways with the people he’s there to socialize with–and since to him socializing is more important than it is to me, it’d be the bigger loss. (And I don’t think he has as many tactics for escaping a conversation as I do, because he doesn’t feel the need as often.)

                I don’t think this is an introvert/extrovert thing.

                1. SarahTheEntwife*

                  Yeah, I’m hugely introverted and a bit socially anxious, but if I’m not already low on social energy I’m the perfect person to deal with someone like her. Provided her conversation isn’t political rants or something, I don’t feel a strong need to get a word in edgewise or to be talking to someone else (especially at a work party where it’s not like I don’t see most of these people every day anyway), so I can just stand there and reasonably contentedly much on appetizers while making encouraging noises occasionally. Not my favorite activity in the world, but work parties aren’t my favorite activity anyway and it could even be useful to be the designated conversational sponge and not have to stand around awkwardly trying to make conversation.

              2. Katie (the other one)*

                I am an introvert, and have no problems chirping “sorry, gotta pee!” or something and moving away from an aggressive conversational partner. Yes, people like this can be annoying, but introverts aren’t children who need to be coddled. We can manage our own social interactions.

                1. Grapey*

                  Exactly. If anything, being an introvert motivated me MORE to develop skills to assert my way out of a painfully annoying conversation.

            2. Delta Delta*

              Are you the Loose Seal from the Seal Deal?

              I live with a cat named Lucille, who is so named because we already had a cat named Buster. :)

      2. Mazzieful*

        I once saw a very painful interaction between a young man with autism spectrum disorder and another young man who had down syndrome and was painfully shy and couldn’t say please leave me alone. No one has to be at fault for the situation to be bad and require intervention

      3. ZVA*

        An introvert’s perspective: while I dislike work gatherings like this (with or without a pushy or domineering person present), I consider that my issue to deal with—not anybody else’s! The stuff of nightmares it may be, but again, that’s my cross to bear; but I would hate for anyone to think they needed to intervene and “save” me from it in some way.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          In this instance, though, he wouldn’t just be “saving” you- he’d be intervening on behalf of the other 23 people and their spouses, as well.

          Good bosses try to keep this stuff from happening to their employees at work events.

          1. ZVA*

            I’m just not sure I agree that the boss should intervene, even if it’s on everyone’s behalf… for one thing, the boss doesn’t know that all 23 people want and need the intervention! I said something similar in a comment lower down, but they employees are all adults, and awkward or unpleasant as this woman may be, I think they should be capable of dealing with her/extracting themselves from the convo/whatever they need to do. Just my onion as they say

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              That’s ignoring the power dynamic at play, though. For lower-level employees, especially of a small company, standing up to the owner’s wife can be a dangerous prospect.

              1. ZVA*

                Yeah, that’s true—I don’t necessarily think the employees should stand up to her so much as find ways to make the situation more bearable for themselves. Maybe that means means excusing themselves to “go to the restroom” if she’s going on and on, for example…

            2. PlainJane*

              I can see both sides of this, but I also wonder if intervening could, in the long run, be worse for everyone. This is a small company with 2 partners. Introducing tension between the partners could damage the business relationship and therefore the business. Maybe I’m making too large of a leap, but I’d rather have an otherwise-good job at a stable, healthy company than risk losing that to avoid some awkwardness once a quarter. And FWIW I’m an introvert too.

              1. Koko*

                Yes, that’s how I see it. The choice here isn’t between the current situation and an ideal one where the wife stops coming or dramatically changes her style of interaction without any hard feelings. You’re choose from a bunch of less-than-ideal options, and the best one might be that people don’t look forward to company parties. I wouldn’t argue that’s a good thing, but it’s a lot better than any of the scenarios where the wife or the business partner become offended and take it out on OP, the other employees, or even each other to the detriment of the business. The choice may not be between “discomfort 4 times a year” and “discomfort never.” It might be between “discomfort 4 times a year” and “discomfort always.”

      4. DM*

        Probably not all introverts. I fall in that category, and I don’t think I’d mind too much to let someone have a one-sided conversation with me. It’ll keep me looking like I’m engaged and not standing awkwardly in the corner looking at my phone :) But I agree that this sounds like a nightmare for many people!

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Also introverted. And I could handle having someone talking at me like that for awhile. But once that limit was reached, I’d be restraining myself from either chewing my own arm off to escape, or yelling something like “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, SHUT THE @#$^@#@#$ UP FOR 30 SECONDS!” And while satisfying in the moment, the latter approach probably wouldn’t do much to enhance my employment prospects.

          Most likely, I’d end up muttering some kind of excuse and fleeing.

        2. Maxwell Edison*

          Maybe it’s just because my last work place was quite toxic, but I’d prefer standing there listening to someone ramble while I made “You don’t say?” remarks over having to socialize with management and monitor every single word that came out of my mouth so I didn’t say something that could be used against me later.

        3. Mookie*

          Same. Sometimes brash, self-obssessed types are the social lubricant I need when the plonk isn’t flowing freely enough. Rarely do I find genuinely stimulating conversation to be had in forced social situations involving workmates, so I’d rather just Ask Questions At at chatty people who like to talk about themselves, so long as they’re not loud enough to induce a headache and don’t hold grudges when people extricate themselves (usually they’re too engaged in “entertaining” people and being “charming” to notice, which is nice).

      5. Ren*

        I know someone socially who does this and it’s hell because if you’re the one stuck with them then congrats you’ve wasted an entire night (they won’t take hints & follow if you try to leave, including once into a bathroom). That’s awful enough in a friendship group when you can cut this person out or not attend, but a work event, that people travelled to specifically to network? It’s a waste of that poor person’s time and money to have to stand there with no real way out other than potentially risking their job. I’d probably start faking illness rather than face that!

      6. oranges & lemons*

        Personally, as an introvert this wouldn’t bother me at all, since I could just stand there and listen to the wife without having to make the effort to make small talk with a bunch of other people who I’m trying to remember if I’ve met before or not. Obviously I don’t speak for everyone on this. Maybe I should rent myself out as a babysitter for self-absorbed conversationalists, because I find these people quite relaxing to talk to.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Agreed. My family has a super talker and at holidays, we take turns listening to her. We all know the situation and each family member takes a 30 min session and then someone will step in.
      If everyone knows the score, I’d set up something similar. If it’s just 4 evenings a year, I don’t think it is worth risking business trust with the partner.

      1. Content Manager*

        Yes, I think that the employees may already know what’s up with the business partner’s wife and they can be trusted to handle it themselves. It would be kind of the OP to tell the employees that they’re free to leave a conversation at any time, because there’s still kind of a weird perceived power imbalance here because the super talker is someone who’s close to their boss. But it’s going to be much easier to tell employees they’re free to leave than to try to change her entire conversational style.

    3. Black Cat*

      +1 if I was your employee I may be annoyed if cornered by the wife, but I don’t think it’s such an unusual or egregious situation that you need to do something about it or that I couldn’t get out of the conversation by myself.

      I am, however, a quiet listener, and so people like this annoyingly seek me out. I’ve become good at escaping the one-sided conversations and so it may be not as big a deal to me as others.

    4. Gaara*

      But as the boss’s wife she has the perception of power over the employees, even if she ultimately doesn’t have authority over them. So they may feel they can’t just walk away, even if you tell them they can. And I think there’s a real business harm in having these events be miserable for the employees. Sure, they can handle it, but it defeats the whole point of having the events in the first place!

    5. Old Grumpy Guy*

      I disagree with the “it’s only 4 nights” idea, because the OP is concerned that the partner’s wife is ruining company events. The employees don’t want to go and don’t enjoy themselves at events that are specifically supposed to bring people who work together to socialize.

      1. Mazzieful*

        I think they need to decide if the purpose is for employees to socialize with each other or if the purpose is to reward them.

        If it is to socialize, just don’t invite spouses or partners. If it’s to reward them, do something structured like a movie so there doesn’t have to be a lot of talking

      2. designbot*

        I agree. The fact that OP and his wife have even started to decline invitations from them is telling–the employees are held captive but other people on their level like potential partners and clients, will be just as put off and have more freedom to avoid. The employees are just the canary in the coal mine.

      3. Turtle Candle*

        Right. If the point of these events is to celebrate and socialize, which the LW indicates that it is, having someone who makes the whole situation super awkward at best and who dominates the conversations isn’t just annoying–it’s actively contrary to the purpose of the event. I’m okay going, “I’m okay dealing with this unpleasant thing because it’s necessary to the work purpose,” especially if it’s four-times-a-year rare, but if the unpleasant thing was actively contrary to the purpose of the event, that would be a very different scenario.

        It’s like the difference between subjected to air horns because you’re an air horn tester, and being subjected to airhorns while trying to troubleshoot a database. They’re neither of them fun, but the former is a necessity and the latter actively hinders the purpose of the activity.

    6. Expat*

      As a resident of the spectrum, it’s usually a big relief to find someone who won’t shut up at a party. They do all the work, and all I need to do is to listen and occasionally ask a question. So much less stressful than trying to develop a genuine back and forth with someone you barely know. And it looks better than silently nursing a drink in the corner, or awkwardly trying to join a group conversation.

      That said, there are limits to my tolerance. 30 minutes with Sir Talksalot is fine. Several hours with the queen of self-aggrandizement would be far, far too much.

  4. Mazzieful*

    If you can afford it: pay someone to be her target for the night.

    Give them a list of things she likes. Introduce them and say “Molly here is a real expert at knitting. So Susie why don’t you listen to what she has to say.”

    You have to be discreet enough that Molly never finds out.

    I had friends that did this at a family reunion with the grandfather with a mental health issue. Someone had to mind him the entire time but you couldn’t let him know he was being minded. The gay grandson who was not out would always bring a different girl to the event and let her talk to grandpa. In reality, girlfriend was hired for the purpose

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      You can pay someone to do this!??? Why have I not taken this up as my second job??

      1. Mazzieful*

        I’ve known a few professional escorts who made as much money just sitting and listening to people who needed to talk and never asked for any extras as they did with people who only wanted the extras. When elderly male client made it clear at the beginning that he couldn’t “perform “but all he was looking for with somebody to go to dinner and to talk to him. He didn’t know who else to hire for the purpose. It was heartbreaking to hear. His wife died and he had been a jerk to his kids when they were younger so they had rightfully disowned him. It was too late for him to make amends and get them back. He was the type of guy who realized his being alone with his own fault but there was nothing he can really do about it at that point.

        There are a lot of lonely people out in the world who do not know how to communicate with others.

        I think one of the mistakes we make this a societies to sue people just learned how to do this naturally by going to school with other children. I think it’s a skill that should be taught as well as teaching you’re a typical people how to respond with sympathy to people who don’t know how to do basic things like hold a conversation.

        If you’re the type of person who’s good at listening and putting up with jerky BS, there’s a lot of money to be made

          1. the gold digger*

            I don’t know if there is enough money for me to listen to someone whine, but I love this idea.

            OK. Maybe like $1,000 cash for four hours. I could suck it up for that.

            1. Anna*

              “I’m going to work on this scrapbook, but you feel free to talk.” That would be my approach. And the pay…

              1. Misquoted*

                Yep. I have a good friend who sometimes gets long-winded. The friendship is important to me, so I deal with these monologues in two ways:

                1. If I know he’s wound up for one, I’ll plan ahead. I did this just now — called him on my lunch break to listen to a long, detailed story that I know he wanted to share. I cooked while he talked. I didn’t need all the details and background, but he wanted to share them, so I timed it so I could just listen passively. (I can be a talker, too, so I get it…I try to keep it to a minimum or only do it to friends who are similar. It would drive my boyfriend nuts, but some friends don’t mind.)
                2. I just tell him, “Dude, you’re doing it again. That thing where you don’t let me get a word in edgewise.” :)

                Not good advice for the boss’s wife, though. I agree with earlier comments that OP needs to talk to the partner, who needs to talk to the wife.

                1. Talvi*

                  I can, on occasion, be a talker, myself. (Depends on how well I know you.) Once, my mom had me monologue at her for the entirety of a multi-hour car drive to keep her alert!

          2. BRR*

            I would have never thought of this and in terms of a solution that could be effective and easy to implement this might work.

        1. MashaKasha*

          This is the career I want for when I am so old that I can no longer hack it in IT.
          And writing as a side job. Get paid to gather the material, write it down, maybe get paid again.

        2. Marisol*

          I totally agree that social skills should be explicitly taught. This will be even more important as the world gets increasingly more populous, with more people in each others’ physical space, and as we get more socially disconnected as a result of spending so much time on computers and devices. I have a feeling that this will become a class, just like home ec, at some point in the future.

      2. EP*

        My brother’s in-laws did this at a family wedding. Their grandmother likes her whiskey and her wine (not in a dangerous way – but in a “I used to do this all the time and forget that I’m almost 80 and am on various medicines” way) and they knew that if they had to watch her all night it wouldn’t be fun for them, so they found a Nana Nanny and hired her for the wedding.

    2. Doodle*

      I’m not sure this would work for a business (especially if the business partner would see/have to approve the expense?) but can I just say this is sheer GENIUS for a family event? I would never have thought of it, and I also have an elderly relative this would be great for. May need to have a “friend in town” next time we have a big family event.

      1. Mazzieful*

        I think there are several of us that have the same great idea! A bright spot in an otherwise crappy day

    3. Venus Supreme*

      This. Is. Magical.

      Something I will keep in mind in case I ever encounter a conversation hogger.

    4. Chickaletta*

      The problem is with the partner. How would you broach the subject with him? Or, if it’s kept a secret, what happens if/when he finds out someone was paid to talk to his wife? This is the sort of thing that could tear a business apart and destroy a friendship.

      1. Mazzieful*

        It really depends on the partner. Like all the suggestions on here, we don’t know enough to know whether it would work.

        1. Anna*

          I don’t know if the partner even needs to know! Party line item – sponges…You know, to soak up things. Like unending one-sided conversations.

          1. PlainJane*

            And my brain goes straight to Seinfeld and, “sponge-worthy.” Nope, not the right image for this issue :-)

          2. Decimus*

            I’d put it down as something like “4 hours, janitorial work” (cleaning up after the party) or possibly “4 hours, party planner” – expenses that sound about right and wouldn’t be exceptional.

            1. SebbyGrrl*

              That’s what I was chiming in to say.
              I am the person one could hire to do this in either business or professional arena.
              For families – yep I’m a friend in town or what my true designation is – Organizer – so I helped organize the event on some level and part of my services is managing challenging people.
              It’s actually enjoyable because I’ve never met this person so their stories and shtick are brand new to me.
              I’ve had to manage my personal/family relationship bs for so long that being able to market that skill for money improves both side of the equation my personal and my business sides.

      2. WellRed*

        Or maybe he’ll be thinking, “why didn’t I do this years ago” for family gatherings, etc. ; )

      3. Athena*

        You have to make the arrangement yourself and take it to your grave. Don’t even tell your own spouse! The business partner should never know. The peace of mind is worth the personal investment.

    5. Bwmn*

      You know – I have to say I love this.

      Be it to actually pay one or two people, or perhaps give them a comp day or half-day to acknowledge that the event truly was “work” for them. As someone who is extroverted and also doesn’t have a partner, it might even make the evening more appealing to me. I’d know that I’d have an assignment, I’d know how specs of the assignment, and I’d know the perks of the assignment.

      I imagine that one of the issues that staff currently have with the dynamic is that the person or people who get “stuck” feel like what they’re doing isn’t valuable. That they pulled the short straw and ultimately it won’t benefit them professionally. However, if someone has that task, then they’ve acknowledged the terms and how it benefits them.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed—I’d pay a third party who’s posing as a spouse or friend or whatnot.

    6. RD*

      The problem with hiring someone is that if the business partner found out that the OP is paying someone to talk to his wife, it could seriously damage their relationship.

      If business partner finds out in 2 years that OP has been conspiring to entertain his wife, he could feel betrayed, embarrassed, hurt, angry, etc. That sort of thing could explode their working relationship and completely derail the business. If the partners aren’t speaking to each other, it’s hard to keep the business successful.

      Is the trade off here going to be that employees don’t have to speak to this woman for a year, but then lose their jobs when the partners can no longer work together?

      1. Mazzieful*

        I don’t think anybody’s disputing that this is a legitimate concern. We don’t know enough context to make a judgment when where the other.

        As I’ve said to other responses, all of the suggestions on here context dependent. We do not know the finances, the relationship between the partners, how much the employees are annoyed, etc.

        We have no way of knowing whether or not the partner would find out. If it’s paid for out of private funds and the only person who knows is the OP and they’re in a reasonable size town, the rest of the other partner finding out is almost 0. If they live in a small town and this would have to be paid out of shared finances, there’s a great risk

        We are all just floating ideas that may or may not work. This would not work at my office, as were all lawyers and fairly sneaky. It would work at my husband’s. He’s an IT executive and works with a lot of people who know they have their own issues.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, that’s my concern. If having a kind but serious conversation a la “Your wife tends to talk a great deal at these events, and it’s getting in the way of employees being able to socialize with each other” would end badly, then finding out that someone was tiptoeing around paying someone else to handle said spouse because nobody could stand her and nobody was willing to loop you in? I think that would end in flames and tears and trust that was potentially permanently broken. And I don’t have much faith that this kind of secret would stay secret, especially if you’re having to hire someone four times a year, every year.

        If the partner was in on it, that would be different, but if you can talk to the partner about it at all, that’s step one, before hiring a babysitter enters the picture. And if you can’t talk to the partner about it, I think doing this on the sly is likely to end poorly.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          (I’m now imagining the AAM letter that would result from that! “My business partner hired someone to talk to my wife at company events.”)

    7. Sas*

      This is it. In addition, I’d suggest, take it off all of your backs and instead of saying babysitter, say something like “conversation booster”. Whatever you would like. Something positive, something succinct. It is what it is and it’s work, but if you were in another situation, walk away. You all have enough to PAY this person WELL, be good to your other employees, and it’s probably worth it. Realistically an adult should be able to give and take, but this is work. You can hire someone to hug you in bed now-a-days, this should hardly be the thing that (in trying to keep it discreet), you shi- bricks over though also.

    8. the_scientist*

      My BFF does this for her friend (for free). He’s not yet out to his family, so she’s his “side piece” for family holidays and events. They’re great friends so they have an excellent rapport and can pull it off for a couple of hours a few times per year, and she’s a wonderful, extroverted person who thrives in social situations and doesn’t mind having to make conversation with strangers.

    9. Maxwell Edison*

      Maybe I could be a freelance listener-for-hire? I’m actually quite good at it. Several members of my family are long-winded types who like to go on and on and on about their interests, and I’ve had years of practice at saying things like, “Wow,” and “Really?” and “I did not know that,” all while being off in my own head and thinking about my grocery list or what errands I have to run.

    10. Marisol*

      Also, as to the concern that it will be awkward or hurtful to the partner to admit to paying someone for their listening skills, could you call that person the “event coordinator” or something like that?

    11. Emilia Bedelia*

      This sounds like it could literally be the plotline of an episode of the Office or Parks and Recreation. Come to think of it, it reminds me of the plotline of an episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine, where two separate parties are being held at the same time so that employees don’t have to “party” with their straightlaced boss. Naturally, it all implodes, leading to much more hassle than it would have been to just have the awkward conversation in the first place.

      I think if the OP wants to take on the burden of entertaining the wife, that’s one thing, but coming up with a plan to hire someone seems prone to backfire.

  5. Aunt Margie at Work*

    Hire a baby sitter for her. Nope, not joking. At events, ask the caterer or restaurant manager to attend to her under the guise of managing the party. Instruct this person to redirect wife after she engages with anyone staff member for more than ten minutes. “Oh, I hate to interrupt, but I must ask you X.”
    Tip heavily.
    She is a grown woman; she won’t change.
    They have been married for years. He knows why you (and undoubtedly others) don’t socialize with them. He knows what she does and doesn’t want to deal with it. Instead he brings her to work parties. Hell, it’s his night away from listening to her.
    Ignore the issue. Solve the problem.

    1. Mazzieful*

      My thoughts exactly. In situations like this you have to hire someone to take a hit so that the team to enjoy the night.

      If possible, hire someone in the mental health or social work professions who might be able to listen and slightly redirect the woman.

      This would also be a case where I personally would go talk to a psychologist and ask what can be done when conversing with this woman to redirect her. There are tactics that can be used successfully

      1. Aunt Margie at Work*

        Finding a way to redirect would be worthwhile, because it sounds like she is not going away. I agree about professional help too because her talking is pathological.

      2. Emilia Bedelia*

        The idea of hiring a mental professional to help someone when you don’t know if they have a diagnosis or not makes me extremely uncomfortable. I really don’t think it’s the OP or the employees’ place to address whatever psychological issues there might be with this woman. If she understands her own problems and wants to enlist help in redirection, that’s one thing, but for someone to decide on her behalf that she needs professional help… that’s really, really not okay, in my view.

        1. Oldgrouchylady*

          “to decide on her behalf that she needs professional help… ”

          I don’t read Mazzie as saying the woman needs professional help. I read her as saying that someone with this experience would be better at dealing with a conversation partner who had issues.

        2. Elder Dog*

          That’s not what was suggested at all.
          The suggestion was to hire a mental health professional as the babysitter because they would be better at recognizing discomfort in others and redirecting her away from people who want to get away, and a separate suggestion was to go talk to one for suggestions on how to redirect her when necessary.

          Nobody has suggested hiring one to treat her, with or without her knowledge.

          1. Emilia Bedelia*

            I never suggested that anyone wants to “treat” her either. I think there’s a lot of speculation that she has a pathological issue that’s underlying this behavior, though, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to go down that road. Just the idea of enlisting someone with mental health experience makes it seem pathological,even if that’s not the intention, and I can’t imagine it going over well if she were to find out.
            I really disagree that this is a workable long term solution. The OP should address it with the partner, or accept that nothing is going to change.

    2. ginger ale for all*

      She probably knows that she does this and can’t change. I have a relative who does this and knows she needs to stop. She once called her brother to ask for help with this when she was in her senior years and spoke non-stop for over four hours about how she couldn’t stop talking. She told me this story herself until someone announced dinner and we made off to our separate seats.

      1. Mazzieful*

        If that’s the case, she needs to mind her who will poke her in the ribs when she’s going off the rails. Her husband needs to be her ally and help her see when she’s doing it. If he doesn’t have the time to devote at these parties, he needs to find somebody or hire somebody to do it

      2. Manders*

        I think it’s possible to change, but that change has to come from a lot of conscious effort and practice, possibly even with professional help if the problem is bad enough. And my experience with people who think this kind of conversation is normal is that there’s usually something else going on, like difficulty reading social cues or understanding what level of intimacy is appropriate, so someone pointing out a symptom of that larger problem doesn’t always get to the root of what’s wrong.

        1. Fiennes*

          Thank you for this. I know from my own talker in the family that people like this are usually written off as rude and self-involved, when it’s just as possible this person has profound difficulties with social situations and/or anxiety issues. Sometimes less severe cases are nothing more or less than the talker being profoundly lonely. I assume OP knows this woman best and is right that she’s just rattling on — but as a general rule of dealing with these situations, I think it’s good to start from a place of compassion for both talker and trapped listeners.

          1. Unintentionallyrude*

            “I think it’s good to start from a place of compassion for both talker and trapped listeners.”

            This is a good rule of thumb when confronted with any behavior like this.

            People assume others are jerks on purpose. Most of us are just clueless.

    3. Dorothy Lawyer*

      Agree 100%. Whether they hire someone from outside the organization or an employee or employees, this is solid gold.

    4. Marisol*

      I love this solution. I’m not sure we can safely assume he knows the wife is a problem though. He could be enamored of her and think she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Or he could know on some level, but be in denial.

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Would it be helpful to empower your employees to walk away? It seems strange that someone would be trapped without the ability to politely interrupt and leave (i.e., literally move), unless they were worried about upsetting the boss by being slightly rude to his wife. (Although I would argue she’s much more rude in this context.)

    I’m not convinced this is worth bringing up with your business partner, except to insulate employees who may need to use the interrupt-and-leave approach from any backlash/ire. I would be surprised if your business partner isn’t aware of the wife’s monologues.

  7. Bend & Snap*

    The fact that you’re partners and therefore have equal standing is a good thing.

    I’d probably start with “We absolutely love Lucinda, and it’s important for our spouses to be at this events. I wanted to alert you to a social quirk that you may not have noticed as her spouse–people are often drafted into conversations for longer than is comfortable and, given her standing as your wife, it’s hard for them to politely socialize with others once they’re drawn into conversation. Have you observed this too?”

    Focusing on the employee impact will be easier and more effective than saying “Lucinda is a socially oblivious windbag and nobody wants her there.”

      1. Emi.*

        No, I think this is still a good idea. No reasonably person is going to be upset by what you suggest here, but the babysitter has so much potential for drama.

    1. Wren*

      But can OP really pull off “we absolutely love Lucinda…” When he and his wife already started declining social invites from the partner years ago?

      They’re business partners. I’d be more direct. Lay it out that employees feel trapped due to her status as wife of an owner. Then explore the possible solutions with him: hire a minder, or at least designate people to rescue trapped people (‘Sorry to interrupt. I need to borrow [employee] for a minute,” or similar,) empower employees to extricate themselves (spread the word that excusing yourself to get a drink or catch up with someone else is fine,) or straight up stop bringing her.

      The partner is well aware that his wife is a conversation hog. No need for “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed…” He’s inflicting his marital arrangement on the business, and the OP as partner has standing to speak up for the business.

      1. Mazzieful*

        I wouldn’t say employees feel trapped. I would say that she tends to dominate conversations such that the employees can’t properly mingle and bond. I’d make it less about the employees hurt feelings and more about how this is undermining the point of the party.

        I wouldn’t make it about the employees feelings or blame the wife. If you frame it about the purpose of the party and how this is getting in the way of the party, it’s a lot less confrontational. There is no blame here, only a joint desire to fix the problem

      2. Anna*

        I don’t think that really matters. From the letter, it doesn’t sound like the polite declines have hurt their relationship, so yes, can say the love Lucinda and have it come off as sincere.

        I would also hazard against confusing the way you might communicate with a business partner and business related things to how you would talk to them about their family. They are not necessarily going to see it as business-related concern when it’s not about the business; it’s about their wife. Directness like what you’re advocating for might not work.

      3. hugseverycat*

        Do the employees actually feel trapped?

        OP asserts that the employees do, but doesn’t cite any evidence. Now, it’s entirely possible that this is bothering the employees and the OP just didn’t include that evidence in the letter, but it’s also entirely possible that OP is on his very last nerve about his partner’s wife and is assuming that everyone else finds her as grating as he does. It’s very possible that the rest of the employees actually find her a bit annoying but harmless.

        Every party has that person in attendance. Yes, in this case, it’s the boss’s wife, so you don’t want to be rude to her, but do you want to be rude to your other coworkers, either?

  8. Cambridge Comma*

    Maybe one person (OP, or someone to whom OP can talk candidly about the situation) volunteers as tribute and talks to her all evening, so that nobody else has to?

    1. Doodle*

      Given that the OP is one of the owners, I think that makes a lot of sense, especially if combined with making some employee-only events. “Taking one for their team” if you will.

      1. Newby*

        This is the best way to avoid hurt feelings. Another option is to periodically break into her conversation with an employee if they seem trapped to give them a chance to escape and break away from the conversation after 10 minutes or so (get another drink, go to the bathroom, see someone you haven’t said hi to yet, ect.). That way you are not trapped the entire time but your employees can enjoy the party.

    2. Emi.*

      Yes, and if some employee joins the conversation and then can’t get away, you can become their favorite person by saying, “Would you excuse us? I want to make sure Lucinda gets a chance to talk to Jane as well” and leading her away. With you as her handler, no one will have to talk to Lucinda for too long.

    3. RVA Cat*

      This would be perfect for an employee or spouse who uses a hearing aid (and can discretely turn it off….).

    4. mskyle*

      Yeah, this seems like the obvious solution here. Maybe OP, OP’s assistant, and/or some other trusted employee who knows the deal can rotate through and/or step in if they notice Partner’s Wife monopolizing someone.

    5. Turtle Candle*

      If I didn’t feel like I could talk to my business partner about this, and it wasn’t feasible for some reason to cut down the number of events and/or make them employee-only, this is what I would do. I’d figure that since this is supposed to be a team socializing event and a celebration, that my role in facilitating that would be to handle her so that nobody else got trapped. (Although I might tag team it with someone else I really trusted, if possible.)

      1. OhNo*

        This is what I was thinking, too. As the head of the org, sometimes you have to take one for the team. This might be one the OP could take with minimum fallout.

        If the OP’s wife is up for it, they could tag team so that no one person gets stuck chatting with her all night. Let her work up a steam on an employee for twenty or thirty minutes, then OP politely takes over and gives the employee an out, then the OP’s wife tags in for a round. When she gets bored, she can politely excuse herself without worrying about consequences and let the talker find someone else to chat at for a bit. THen repeat as necessary. Cycle through that enough times, and you’ve made it through a four-hour party with only an hour or so spent with the talker.

        (Bonus: by getting both the OP and their wife to chat, it may help maintain the relationship with the partner and their spouse. Declining social invitations shouldn’t have any fallout at work, but when it’s your business partner, it never hurts to tread carefully.)

  9. SM*

    From a sparing the employees perspective, my thoughts are (as stated in another comment) make the events spouse free all or most of the time, or follow the other advise of this blog regarding making parties enjoyable for staff – make sure they understand that attendance is completely optional.

    1. KathyGeiss*

      I think this is the best option. 4 events a year where spouses are invited seems a bit excessive to me. I don’t think my spouse would enjoy this even if there was no ChattyMcGee.

      Having them spouse-free also allows for more time for staff to build rapport and check in with each other, which can be important with a long-distance team.

      I’d keep the spouse-invite open at one event and just suffer through her chattiness. At this event, I’d keep an eye on her and if she’s got someone trapped, be the person that pulls them away. “So sorry to interrupt ChattyMcGee but I really need to steel Lucinda away to show her this thing we were talking about last week.”

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Ooo, maybe switch from so many spouse events to inviting major clients instead. Then it wouldn’t be as obvious.

          1. North Dakota Jones*

            The employees might not, though. Now it goes from something they have to be on decent-but-can-have-some-fun behavior to client’s-here-so-I-have-to-work behavior.

      2. Sans*

        I was going to suggest this – make most of the events spouse-free and frame it as an opportunity for everyone to be together at once and build rapport.

  10. Mary*

    Sit your partner down and say “The feedback I am getting from employees is that they don’t seem to enjoy the quarterly get-together as much as they did in the past and I was thinking of changing things around next March. I really want our employees to feel appreciated and want them to enjoy the event. I was thinking we should do xxx, it is more expensive than what we normally do so I was going to suggest employee only for this and lets see how it runs. if it does not work out we can always go back to the family BBQ next July.” Basically do a work around to get rid of the spouses. Or allow the staff to have an event without the directors and their spouses in attendance.

  11. AVP*

    Can you make the quarterly gatherings part of the work day, with maybe a catered lunch to fancy it up if needed? And then, decline to invite any plus ones since its during the work day. As long as OP’s wife isn’t invited either it won’t seem like a slight.

    That doesn’t solve the overall problem but, if you want something that you can achieve without having to have the awkward conversation, it could work. And I’m sure the other spouses aren’t dying to go to a work party four times per year anyway.

    1. Artemesia*

      I don’t know how spouses feel about the events. If they are actually nice dinners etc, they may actually look at them as a real plus to their spouse’s employment. If so it would seem unfortunate to deprive everyone if no one has the gumption to tackle this head on with the partner. The babysitter idea is not a bad one but does have the potential of embarrassing the partner and his wife. If that approach is taken, it has to be incredibly discreet so that it doesn’t become an office joke; its potential to become so is VERY high.

  12. NotAnotherManager!*

    I assume that there is no one with a strong enough relationship to have a direct word with the business partner about this? “Jim, I know that Lucinda really enjoys meeting the staff, but sometimes, it seems that they spend more time talking to her than socializing with team members from other offices. Could you help make sure that the staff is mixing and mingling with one another and not monopolizing Lucinda’s time?”

    Otherwise, maybe you can you have some designated interrupters who can keep an eye on her and, if her prey starts looking like a deer in headlights, send someone over to do the whole, “Oh, excuse me Lucinda! I need to borrow Jane to introduce her to some team members from our Springfield office. Jane, can you come and meet Fergus? I know you’ve been looking forward to meeting him in person!” and walk them away. Bonus points if this is supervisor with some clout and cheerful directness. (Either that, or have a designated parade of people that will engage Lucinda for 10 minutes each and then have to use the ladies’/men’s room or go and say hello to Bob in purchasing over there.)

    1. this*

      Yes to the interrupters. Although as the LW is a partner he and his wife may need to be the main ones to do this.

    2. RD*


      This is basically what I was going to say, along with changing some events to staff only.

      I feel very fortunate that my husband has chose to have all the vents for his business be staff only. No one that I have met really enjoys going to their spouse’s or partner’s work events.

      We have an acquaintance who behaves like your partner’s wife. One of my favorite things about our acquaintance’s wife is that she is aware of his behavior and when she sees someone looking trapped, she will intervene and redirect her husband either to a topic that engages the other person more or away from that person entirely. His social skills have improved immensely since he married her.

      I would recommend you, your wife, and perhaps a trusted discrete member of management having a plan to keep eyes opened for trapped employees and interrupt and redirect as much as possible.

    3. Lablizard*

      The OP should take that role if it is a big concern. It is a basic party hosting skill to make sure that the conversations are flowing and no one is trapped with Blowhard McChatterbox. Every 15 minutes do a check and if she is with the same person for 2 checks, I intervene with a, “so sorry to interrupt, I wasn’t sure if you had met our new Fair-Trade Chocolate Teapot chemist. She is right over there. Shall I introduce you?”

  13. Lily in NYC*

    I am so interested in seeing what others have to say on this, because it seems like an impossible situation to me. I just don’t see a way to say anything to the business partner without deeply offending him (or his wife).
    One solution would be to have a few people who understand the situation and act as “saviors”. If you see the wife has cornered someone, give it a few minutes and then go over and break into the conversation by offering drinks or just butting in.
    What I can’t see is a way to stop her from coming to events or asking the husband to help rein her in without causing hurt feelings and possibly damaging the work relationship with the business partner.

  14. The Cosmic Avenger*

    As the big bosses, it’s really on your and/or your business partner to fix it, and to protect your employees from being in such an uncomfortable position, where they might feel their only choices are to risk their jobs or to let their party be ruined.

    Ideally your partner should deal with it, since he’s much closer to the source of the problem (and, in a way, more a part of the cause), but if he won’t then you should step up. At best maybe between the two of you, you can find ways to keep her occupied, but if that doesn’t work you should keep your employees from being made to feel awkward, trapped, and miserable at work events.

    Good luck, this is a sticky one!

    1. Mazzieful*

      Yes, the partner needs to figure out why she’s doing this. Is it a new problem? Has she always been like this? Does she work out of the home where she home all day with young children? All of this would make a difference to the advice I would give

      It doesn’t sound like she’s hateful or mean or even intentionally rude

    2. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Right, the partners are the hosts. So as the hosts, they need to make sure that nobody is getting cornered for too long.

  15. Cristina in England*

    Definitely make sure that these events aren’t mandatory and make sure no employee is penalised for not attending or leaving early. Maybe at the event, try rescuing someone she’s talking to, by needing to ask them something and taking them away?

  16. Temperance*

    Honestly, speaking as an employee, I don’t expect to have “fun” at work parties or enjoy them. They’re a nice time, but still work.

    So yeah, while I wouldn’t love spending time around Chatty Barbara, I would sort of just be okay with it and expect it. We might privately joke about her later, but I wouldn’t get in a tizzy over it. (One of my favorite work horror stories is how I was cornered by a woman who I thought was the wife of the CEO, and I spent an hour with her looking through wedding photos and hearing about how proud she is that her daughter was a virgin when she married. I found out afterward that her husband wasn’t the CEO, but a regular sales guy.)

    1. Sunflower*

      This is where I’m at. Now if this was a client development thing and she was doing this to potential business, that would be a totally different story.

    2. RVA Cat*

      Super creepy that she’s chatting up random strangers about her daughter’s sexual history. So. Much. Overshare.

      1. Artemesia*

        People have parties and have daddies give rings to daughters to pledge sexual purity. There is no such thing as oversharing in the US. But yeah. Awful.

      2. Temperance*

        She was very, very proud of it. Honestly, I was happier talking about the state of her daughter’s vagina than I was talking about the pope visit.

  17. Anon16*

    Maybe I’m being overly cavalier, but….it’s four times a year. Is it really that hard to endure when it’s fairly infrequent? I’m saying this because I’m not sure there’s anything you can do aside from the standard social niceties of getting away from someone who’s talking too much, (I’m going to grab some food, a drink, I need to use the bathroom.) If there’s no room to interrupt, you could say “I apologize to interrupt, I just really need to use the bathroom” and use that as an opportunity to leave and distract yourself with getting food when you come back. If nothing works, it really is just four times a year so it may be something to just endure.

    1. SJ*

      It’s only four times a year, but if the event is intended to be a team-building, morale-boosting sort of event for all the employees, one woman completely dominating the conversation and creating an awkward environment undermines the purpose of the gathering and makes it something to be dreaded.

      1. Anon16*

        Sure….I agree. But there’s loads of events that people don’t like for different reasons and are obligated to attend. If it’s someone that you feel comfortable speaking, it may be worth addressing, but there’s not much else to do aside from loosely changing the nature of the events, (not making it mandatory, for example).

      2. Karanda Baywood*

        Exactly. It should be 4x/year of “Employees, you’re awesome and we appreciate you and no one is going to trap you into hours of boring conversation!”

        1. hugseverycat*

          I guarantee you 90% of the conversations at a work party are boring to at least 1 participant.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        if the event is intended to be a team-building, morale-boosting sort of event for all the employees

        If that IS truly the intent, all the more reason to make it employees only.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          If it is team building then maybe they ought to figure out if it is worth the money they are spending. Are they getting a return on this investment?

          This may be an inroad to open the discussion, OP. As business partners you two should reassess what you are doing periodically anyway. You might conclude that it’s too much money for little return. This skates by the perpetual talker question and looks at the bigger picture.

    2. Anon16*

      Whoops! I misread the question to mean it was a boss’s wife, not someone on equal footing. In this case, please disregard my response.

    3. Mazzieful*

      Four times a year doesn’t seem something so bad to You or I, but it would be crippling to some of my friends with social phobias of their own.

      Can’t assume the people she highjacjs don’t have issues of their own and don’t find it really problematic

      1. Koko*

        I say this as someone who has struggled with lifelong anxiety of all kinds, including (and especially) social. There comes a point where something, no matter how difficult or anxiety-producing or nightmarish it may feel to me, is a normal part of life and if I want to remain a part of society, I need to figure out how to get through it without wanting to tear my own skin off. I can’t expect everyone around me to shield me from uncomfortable but normal situations that everyone has to deal with, just because I have an especially bad time with them. I have had to learn how to manage my illness and actively work to overcome it every day so that I can be part of the world.

        I always appreciate when people are compassionate, and when they are understanding about what I need to do. Most of my friends know that I won’t stay at any gathering for more than a couple of hours tops, and if there are more than 10 people present there’s a 100% chance I will leave quietly without saying goodbye because my anxiety got the better of me and I needed to leave immediately with no further social interaction. But ultimately those are things I’ve learned to do for myself – I don’t expect anyone else to change what they’re doing. I want to be a part of the world, and that means meeting it head on, even though it sucks that that’s harder for me than it is for most other people.

        1. Mazzieful*

          I understand that. I’ve done a lot of work with people with anxiety disorders and special needs of various types. The issue is that what works for one person doesn’t work for another. All I’m saying is we should not assume that this behavior is non-harmful to the recipient.

          We really do need to realize that were in the society of people with different needs and different issues. We can’t accommodate everyone all the time, but we should be aware of it

    4. Turtle Candle*

      Well, but part of the problem is that according to the LW, these are “parties” and are supposed to be “celebratory.” I can endure a fair amount of awkward social unpleasantness if necessary for my job–we have a few events every year where it’s expected that employees will mingle with customers, for instance, and yeah, I steel myself for being cornered by That One Guy Who Won’t Stop Talking and Annoying Anecdote Lady and Whiny Complainer Dude. It’s part of the job, and a moderate amount of awkward is okay to deal with as part of the job.

      But if this really is supposed to be a party or a celebration, for the benefit of the employees, that changes the calculations quite a bit, to my mind. Subjecting employees to something mildly to moderately unpleasant as a genuine part of their required job duties is okay, and often unavoidable. But subjecting employees to something unpleasant ostensibly as a celebration or a morale- or team-building opportunity? You’d be better off having no parties at all, I think. If this was a small piece of annoying in an otherwise highly enjoyable event, it’d maybe not be a big thing, but the LW says that it’s “visibly awkward for everyone involved” and “the elephant in the room,” which defeats the entire point of celebratory, morale-building/team-building parties.

      Had one of the employees written in, I’d probably be going, “Yeah, that sounds obnoxious but depending on your office culture you may need to just grit your teeth and deal four times a year.” But this is a different story because it’s someone who does have the power to change things (whether that’s a gentle but frank discussion with the partner, assigning someone to babysit her, making the events employee-only, or canceling them outright), and so I think it’s different. They intend the parties to be one thing and this situation is making them very different, and “grit your teeth, suck it up, and CELEBRATE!” is not a great thing to expect of employees, I think.

    5. Artemesia*

      The problem is she is making is miserable for employees who undoubtedly feel they have no choice. What is the point of expensive workplace dinners and parties if their main effect is to create dread? The brass need to deal here; the minions haven’t got a chance. That may mean they are the interrupters and actively protect employees. And they may need to enlist their own spouses.

    6. Stellaaaaa*

      When it’s the only time the remote crew and office crew are all in the same room, yeah you really can’t have a non-employee acting this way.

    7. Mephyle*

      It’s only 4 times a year, but if these are the company’s only parties, and the only times that employees from the different locations have a chance to meet physically (as far as I can see, OP didn’t say explicitly these are the only ones, but implied it), then 100% of these events are coloured by her presence.

  18. Mazzieful*

    I don’t to try and figure out if this woman’s issue is somehow medical or psychological or if it’s simply that she never gets out of the house. If it’s the latter she’s likely desperate for conversation but has forgotten how to go about it.

    If she works full-time and that’s just how she is, it’s a different problem

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I’m curious about what she can talk about the whole time. I wonder if she is telling tall tales, or if she just repeats the same boring story again and again.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I’m curious about what she can talk about the whole time.

        You’ve obviously never met my sister-in-law…

          1. Tau*

            I’m autistic and winced in recognition at that one. I can usually manage to keep my conversations within spitting distance of appropriate-for-neurotypicals, but doing that requires real effort and that is sometimes effort I can’t spare. Still remember the time my friend turned to me and went “uh, Tau, I think you really need to go to bed, because you’ve been talking about the minutiae of the London tube network for half an hour…”

            1. Oldgrouchylady*

              I’m not on the spectrum, but I could very easily bore someone to tears if talking about a subject dear to my heart.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I had a classmate who literally spoke to me for over 1 hour, without interruption and without switching topics (despite my efforts), about her personal fashion sense. Note that this was in response to “how was your flight?”

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Or my partner’s aunt! From her, it’s basically as if she has no filter between her brain and her mouth, and every passing thought gets expressed verbally.

          So you say “How was the drive up from Oregon?” and she starts in with oh it was fine we stopped to get gas in this small town and the gas station had this amazing display of locally made chocolates they had peanut butter and mint and hazelnut I think homemade chocolate is so much better than commercially made you know they put chemicals in that that makes babies grow green hair can you imagine what is the world coming to anyway i got the peanut butter and the mint and I’m going to mail the mint to my stepdaughter she just loves mint did I mention she just recently completed her veterinary program yes yes we’re so proud of her she’s hoping to work for a large animal vet but you know she loves animals when she was living with us ten no I guess it was twelve now ha ha doesn’t time fly twelve years ago she had this dog named charlie beautiful golden retrievers I think retrievers are just the sweetest dogs don’t you they always look like they’re smiling anyway charlie escaped over the back fence one day and she was heartbroken but he did come back ultimately he died of cancer but he was an old dog so we buried him in the backyard under the pine trees which reminds me we really need to get the tree pruners to come out oh and I want to do some landscaping I’m thinking of putting in an arbor trellis and maybe some grapes but ornamental not you know for eating probably I’m not really that big a fan of grapes I prefer blueberries they make the best blueberry pancakes at the diner down the street….

          And she will keep it up. For hours. And hours. And hours. Without apparently needing to breathe.

          The family has an unofficial rota to rescue people from her.

      2. Karanda Baywood*

        I have a relative who is excellent at relaying the painful minutiae of everyday life with every non-story story she tells.

        I do not need to know you were on your way to the dry cleaners when you got a phone call from your neighbor’s sister at 8, no maybe it was 7:30? no it was 8 o’clock, I remember exactly because I looked at my watch and thought, oh Survivor will be on in an hour, I need to get home but… and [eyes glaze over]

      3. BadPlanning*

        In my experience, its their entire life story in minute detail. On repeat. With a dash of tall tales.

      4. Loose Seal*

        I take a medication at night that releases my inner chatterbox. Luckily, my husband is mostly amused by it and will keep count of how many topics I can blaze through without stopping. I can go for 20-30 minutes before I realize I’ve been nattering away for an excessive time. Knowing it’s the drug makes me feel a bit better but it’s definitely a weird thing.

          1. Loose Seal*

            It’s Zanaflex (in the U.S., at least). It’s a muscle relaxer and I think it strips me of any inhibitions as it starts to work. My husband says the only muscle it doesn’t relax is my tongue, lol. I swear I’m not that chatty the rest of the day. It’s so weird.

      5. Maxwell Edison*

        It can be about something the talker finds fascinating and therefore believes everyone else is interested in too. I’ve come to dread it when my spouse starts off with, “I heard a really interesting thing on NPR today…”

        1. Elsajeni*

          “So I was listening to a podcast today and–” noooo, hon, if I wanted to hear a full play-by-play of every podcast you listen to I would listen to those podcasts.

      6. Artemesia*

        I wouldn’t have any trouble blathering on about myself for 4 hours. Lots of people like to hear themselves talk. And my stories are of course fascinating. All blabberers think that. My husband and I on our way to every social event sort of discuss how we will NOT monopolize conversation and will draw out the quieter members of the group. It helps to be mindful of your social faults and this one is ours. It really has made us better friends.

      7. Not So NewReader*

        In my life they can talk for hours because they repeat the same stories over and over. Or they can talk for hours because they do not miss a single detail of the story. It takes a half hour to describe a trip to the grocery store.

        At some point I stop listening and start thinking, “Where are you at in your head that you think I need to know this? annnd If I shared this level of detail with you would you listen to me for as long?”

    2. Cranky Pants*

      My MIL is like this – she’s retired but very active, has many friends and is always out socializing. She just talks constantly.
      This is hard for me as I am far more introverted and generally have to plan out the things I say but she just goes on (and on and on…) and it makes it impossible to have any input to the conversation. Plus, she fills the discussion with a ridiculous amount of unimportant details that I just tune out most of the time.
      A typical talk might involve asking her about her recent trip back home to visit her sister but her response will include details on that trip they took with that other couple back in ’82, how she thinks it was around then because she was still married to Joe at the time, the difficulty they had with the rental car back in ’82, the route they took to get there and all that construction, what she was wearing, how the nephew Bobby behaved while they were stuck in traffic, how Bobby is now married with two kids and oh, yeah – I went to visit my sister last month and we……

      It’s beyond exhausting and it makes me even quieter than I normally am.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Oh my goodness. I used to work with someone like this. We once were socializing after work and a conversation – that she held entirely by herself – followed this trajectory: story on healthcare she heard on NPR > her sister really likes NPR but can’t get a good signal at her house so only listens in the car > that time her sister took the train home from NYC but the train was late so she and her mom sang songs in the car > her favorite song from Girl Scout camp was about the Titanic > her best friend from Girl Scout camp moved to somewhere in South America and they just reconnected on Facebook (this was about 8 years ago so Facebook was relatively new to many people) > oh my gosh, did you see that thing in the paper about that guy who….

        This was before I had a smartphone. I played so many rounds of solitaire on my Razr phone during this diatribe that it wore the battery down to zero. I finally said I had to leave because I needed to charge my phone.

      2. Project Manager*

        Are you my husband??? Because you’ve described my mom. And she complains that we don’t talk enough. I’ve pointed out a thousand times that if she wants other people to talk, she would have to stop talking. To no avail. What’s kind of awful is that sometimes I actually do want to ask a follow-up question, but I never do because I know it will take her fifteen minutes to give an answer that could be summarized in one sentence, and I usually just don’t have the energy for it. (When you are profoundly deaf, listening is hard work – it’s comparable to conversing in a language you’re not yet fluent in.)

        1. Artemesia*

          My Mom was like this. She was lonely as she lived far away from us and for many years she was trapped caring for a spouse with dementia. When I would visit, it would just grind me down it was non stop. I am an introvert and an hour or so of this would be interesting but then I would just want to curl up in a fetal position. I took to renting movies to watch with her and later learned to schedule more time away with local friends when I visited. I wish in retrospect I had called her every day for 20 minutes so she would have had more of an outlet. I loved being with her for a few hours — but those week long visits were murder and since she lived 2000 miles away that was the option we had.

          1. A Person*

            If it makes you feel better, this is ALSO my mom, I talk to her for about 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week, and it’s STILL grinding to visit her. Somehow.

        2. Cranky Pants*

          Haha, no – this is my husband’s mom! I do genuinely like her but I can’t be around her for too long. Thankfully they live a 3 hour plane ride away so most of our conversations are on the phone where it’s a easier to pass the time by rolling my eyes, choking myself with an imaginary noose, etc.

          My husband is a bit hard of hearing and he says it’s easier for him because of it. He just doesn’t pay too much attention to what she says ;-)

  19. WhiteBear*

    I feel as though you are the only person with the “standing” to shut her down or redirect conversations, and that your employees will feel they can’t. I would have phrases prepared such as “actually can we go back to what Jack was saying about the art show he entered?” “I just want to hear more about Denise’s vacation” “let Joe finish what he was saying about his dog’s new health diet”. Even phrases to pull you or someone else out of a convo with her like, “Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to introduce (employee currently trapped in conversation with boss’ wife) to the IT lady who started with us in September” “I need to steal Bobby away from you for a moment.” Just phrases you can use to get employees away from her when they look trapped.

    To any employees who have experienced her or dread her behavior, acknowledge it and tell them they can use any sort of excuse to get themselves out of a conversation with her like, “I need to run to the ladies’ room, see you later” “It was great talking with you, I’m going to grab a drink” “I really need to reply to this message, please excuse me”. Let them know it is okay to excuse themselves from a conversation with her, and again, if you see her corner an employee and hold them hostage in a conversation for a long stretch of time, use your standing as boss to rescue your employee.

  20. OG OM*

    You absolutely have the right to avoid non-work invitations, but I don’t think it is worth the ruffled feathers to try to do something about work events. It would be a horse of a different color if she was employed by the company or butted into work affairs. This sounds like she is just, like, super annoying at social events. If it is just 4 work parties a year, I would recommend just sucking it up and smiling through it. I personally hate all work gatherings period, but I smile and chat. If you are truly concerned about employees getting “trapped”, I would recommend you simply just butt into the conversation and give the employee a chance to “escape.” It works for women at bars!

  21. A Noni Moose*

    OP, has your wife ever taken the partner’ she wife under her wing for the night? Make the rounds with her, redirect awkward conversations, etc?

    1. mskyle*

      Kind of sucks for the OP’s wife, who is already supporting OP by attending at all. I’d try to rope in someone who actually works for the company before resorting to this.

      1. RD*

        I’d stab my husband with a fork if he asked me to do this.

        Ok, not really, but I would not be happy. I hate “making the rounds” as it is, but having to basically work a party with a tag-a-long would be hard for anyone who is even a little introverted or shy.

        I’d probably start campaigning against family attending business events, which would solve the problem in a different way.

        1. Spoonie*

          As the somewhat introverted girlfriend to my extroverted company-owning boyfriend, I dread the day I have to start attending work events with him. If I had to take the overly chatty partner’s spouse under my wing during the event also? Oh lawd, please have mercy on everyone’s souls lest I go stabby with the sarcasm.

          I would be with RD — fewer family/spouse attended events, for the sake of all.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          I’d use a spoon. A rusty one.

          Not really, of course, but the thought would be there! I’d probably do it, but only for an hour or so, and would inform my spouse that it’s his turn after that – or that he needs to find someone else to take over at that point.

      2. Fiennes*

        My question would be: “OP, have you *bribed* your wife to do this?”

        More seriously, I’d advocate for fewer events with spouses. But if you’ve got to have a babysitter for Partner’s Wife, that sitter needs to be generously rewarded. OP’s wife is in a position to do it IF you make it worth her while–otherwise, you have marital discord to add to the other problems. Only OP & his wife can know what, if anything, would make this worthwhile for her. :)

        1. Turtle Candle*

          If my partner asked me to do this more than once or twice (and I mean “once or twice in a lifetime” more so than “once or twice a year”) the bribery would be on the order of “a four-day cruise to Alaska, ALL ALONE.” Because yeah, it would drive me mental, and I’d need a solo cruise where I could do nothing but eat from the buffet and read my book without talking to anyone to recover.

          (I do it when it’s unavoidable–I am part of the rota that rescues people from my partner’s talkative aunt–but multiple times a year for a work event? Nooooooo.)

          1. Fiennes*

            Yes, for some people this is going to be a highly painful task. For others, it might count as no more than an annoyance, and well worth, say, being freed from a hated household chore for a couple of weeks, or a great meal at a favorite restaurant, etc. But of course only OP and his wife know how that would or wouldn’t work for them.

    2. Maya Elena*

      Give her a task to do commensurate with her skills and interests – along the lines of leading (optional) games or other activities.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Wait. That might be an idea. If you guys have a raffle or something put her in charge of collecting up all the tickets. Or tell her she has to take pictures of people and make sure that the shots are flattering. Give her something to do.

        I have been wondering as I read down through if she isn’t feeling some compulsion to be the hostess. Maybe a more defined role would cut into the level of chatter.

    3. Temperance*

      Yuck. This woman is so dreadful that they had to cut social ties with her. If my husband asked that, I would be expecting majorly nice presents in return.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Good question. Partner may say to his wife, “You know how much I hate these things. Work your magic, okay?”
        OP, maybe the partner wants to tell you that he does not want to do these events but he does not know how to open the subject.

  22. Mazzieful*

    (1) hire a babysitter
    (2) “rescue” people who are trapped by swooping in saying “I need to talk to Jame about something in private”
    (3) have either employee-only parties or parties that are structured such that the one on one conversation time is limited. If you incorporate games or activities such as karaoke that may go along way.
    (4) don’t proactively say anything to employees, but if it becomes clear that in employee was annoyed, say something after the fact that you were sorry that they got waylaid last night and that you hope they understand that they can walk away from conversations
    (5) talk to your partner about why his wife is so desperate to be the center of attention. Perhaps there is something going on that needs to be addressed. Perhaps she has some issue that could be remedied with a little bit of therapy. It doesn’t sound as if she’s a real jerk he’s getting off on hurting people. It sounds like she’s clueless and would be embarrassed if she understood how she was perceived

  23. Cambridge Comma*

    Depending on the event, I wonder if it would be possible to find a task for her to do that forces her to move from person to person fairly regularly? Might work if it’s the kind of thing where people help out, or if others such as the OP’s wife can also be asked to perform non-onerous functions.

      1. Mazzieful*

        Great idea! Let’s keep them coming as I think we can help the OP and other people in this situation. I don’t think anyone remedy will work out every time. It’s great that there are several options being presented here

    1. Marisol*

      I remember reading about this strategy, can’t remember where I read it, for people who are difficult in family gatherings. You say to the person, “now Aunt Felicia, I have a very important favor to ask, and I need it to be handled by you, if you’re willing, because you’re so good at this sort of thing. Would you help make sure all the guests feel welcome by greeting them and spending a few moments chatting with them?” Aunt Felicia, who is typically a sourpuss and who is that way in part because she feels unimportant, now feels important and so her whole attitude changes. I think that’s the gist what you are suggesting and it’s a really good idea. The wife’s “help” could be simply to circulate every 10 minutes because she’s “such a good conversationalist.”

    2. Fiennes*

      Apparently the late Paul Newman attended many charity functions — and whenever possible, he asked to serve as a volunteer bartender all night. This meant that virtually everyone at the event could have a chance to talk with him, and yet nobody would be able to monopolize him. IMO, that solution was genius. I don’t know whether this specific idea could fit the OP’s situation, but that’s the kind of thinking that might help in the most effective & yet tactful way.

  24. CBH*

    OP I would talk, as a friend, to your partner. Emphasize how much you enjoy getting together as couple and being business partners. Say some employees spoke with you confidentially that they are having difficulty getting to know partner’s wife; i.e. the conversation is one sided. Does Partner have any suggestions. I’m willing to bet this is something partner has had to deal a\with for a lifetime and may have some suggestions. I think with this awkward conversation coming from a friend will soften the blow. Also playing catch 22, another possiblility could also be the wife is on a “power trip” and expects people to listen/ converse with her since she is the bosses wife. Regardless, perhaps employees should tag team or signal each other ways to be excused without being rude.

  25. Spiny*

    Make one or two of the events employees only- no spouses.

    Is your business partner offended if people flee his wife? If there’s no consequence for them, that’s just a social situation most learn to navigate on their own. It’s much easier to move on at a party than a double date. Recruit your wife (with you assisting) to run interference and rescue people held captive. People will understand what you’re doing without having to be explicit.

    1. E*

      Diplomatically honest. Can you tell her “I need to make sure I mingle with the folks from xyz other departments”? A work party is the perfect excuse to move around the room and talk with various folks, not stay trapped with the one person who isn’t the easiest to listen to.

      1. TootsNYC*

        And, “Chatty, I’m going to steal Fergus away from you. I need to make sure he mingles with some other folks, so we’re going to leave you here.”

  26. Lora*

    Four events per year is a lot of events to bring family. Summer BBQ and Xmas party are really more than enough, and you can certainly make at least one of those employees only. Keep actual team building events separate and make all +1 type events fully honestly optional so that those of us who just cannot even with this sort of thing can opt out.

    She’s probably clueless about how she comes across. It’s not your job to clue her in, it’s just your job as host to minimize the impact.

    I don’t know how husbands talk about their wives, but I can say that my women friends and I get together to complain about spouses over moscato, and “holy crap your husband is a jerk” has come up more than once when this is the case. It’s more in the context of, “OMG, my husband (left his soggy towel on the bed/didn’t put socks in the hamper/spent a ton of money on coke and hookers) and it’s driving me BONKERS” and someone else says, “yeah, that is some nonsense right there, I agree – what do you think you might do about it?” Is this the sort of thing you can reasonably discuss with your partner?

    1. Hope*

      “(left his soggy towel on the bed/didn’t put socks in the hamper/spent a ton of money on coke and hookers)

      One of these is not like the others…

    2. Unintentionallyrude*

      “Four events per year is a lot of events to bring family. ”

      That depends on the company and the area where they live. In LA at a normal company? Once a year max. A small business in small town in Kentucky? Not necessarily over the top.

    3. Artemesia*

      I have friends who are upset that their husbands monopolize conversation and say so. My best friend’s husband is fascinating but does tend to go on and on and so does my husband — they are kind of hilarious lecturing each other and get along great. She will interrupt him when we are out together when he gets carried away insisting that she be allowed to complete a thought and that reins him in a bit. The saving grace is that he is actually interesting in slightly more measured doses.

  27. Murphy*

    OP: Have you actually received feedback from other employees that your partner’s wife does this to them? I have no doubt that she’s doing it, based on what you’ve said, but I’m wondering if you’re perceiving it as a bigger deal than it is. Maybe it’s just annoying to them, but not a huge deal.

    1. OP Here*

      This is a great question Murphy. I have heard this feedback from past employees over the years (and a few of their spouses) after they’ve left the company. This isn’t the reason they left, but it was feedback they felt they couldn’t give while they were employees. I have not heard it stated so candidly by current employees so it’s definitely possible that I perceive it as a bigger deal than it is.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        If this is feedback they felt they couldn’t give while employed at your company, I think that is worth considering, along with the feedback itself. It says to me that at least some employees are perceiving a power dynamic, and this is, at least to some extent, keeping them from speaking up. Is it necessarily a huge deal? No…but if these events are intended to reward the employees, I’d be willing to bet that at least some of the employees aren’t feeling very rewarded if these events come with the freight of having to deal with Partner’s Wife.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Ooh, if this is something serious enough that more than one employee has mentioned after they left the company, I’d definitely take it seriously (whatever that might mean–gently bringing it up with your business partner, making the events employees-only and/or reduce their numbers, something). I may be off base, but when I’ve left jobs in the past, how the company parties went was the last thing on my mind, so if this is such a big deal that they think to bring it up after they’ve left–and they didn’t feel they could say anything while they were there–it may very well be a genuinely big deal. (Unless you prompted the discussion, of course, in which case it’s still potentially an issue but less of a concern than if they’re bringing up the awkwardness at the work parties unprompted.)

      3. Not So NewReader*

        If you have gotten this as actual feedback then you can go ahead and tell your partner. The problem is the longer it goes unmentioned then the more apt Partner will be to say, “Why did you let this go on so long and not tell me?”

        (I would answer that by saying I did not think one or two comments merited discussion. But I have received X comments so I felt it was time to say something.)

  28. Chief Operating Officer*

    I think this is an excellent way to approach this conversation. The poster is brillant! I was hesitant about speaking to the partner because I couldn’t envision how to start the conversation.

    “We absolutely love Lucinda, and it’s important for our spouses to be at this events. I wanted to alert you to a social quirk that you may not have noticed as her spouse–people are often drafted into conversations for longer than is comfortable and, given her standing as your wife, it’s hard for them to politely socialize with others once they’re drawn into conversation. Have you observed this too?”

    However, I do also think four nights a year is not terribly onerous and if you can also be part of moving employees away, etc. that is helpful. It would be different if it was weekly or more regular.

  29. Chickaletta*

    I know some people here are going to hate this idea, so OP it’s up to you where you think it would fly with the group of people you work with, but maybe it’s time to bring back party games. A white elephant exchange to headline the holiday party, or a board game competition, or I don’t know, something where you have a list of questions to ask people around the room. (I’m sure the internet is full of ideas.) This way, it breaks up the conversation that partner’s spouse is having and she’s forced to focus on what other people are doing and saying… hopefully. Even people who aren’t a fan of games might appreciate the distraction if they dread getting caught in her clutches too.

    1. Mazzieful*

      If you do this make sure there’s a time limit for her responses! No one wants to have to tell the bosses wife to shut up. If, however, they said to explain something and say three sentences only, That would work

    2. TootsNYC*

      heck, play actual games.

      This is team building and entertainment, right?

      So set up a Sorry board, a Trivial Pursuit one, and another. And divide people onto teams, each team having one person per board, then set a timer for 15 minutes. Every 15 minutes, the members of one team rotate left, another team right.

      When it’s people’s turn to go, they can say (or a captain at each table can say), “Shh, it’s Phyllis’s turn.” And at 15 minutes, everybody moves.

      Also, because there’s something to do and see and talk about that’s immediately, everybody can just talk right over her. We do this at the dinner table for holidays all the time.

  30. ZVA*

    Hmm. Honestly, I’m tempted to say you should just let it be. Your employees are adults, and if they want to extricate themselves from a convo with your partner’s wife, they can… Some are commenting that, as introverts, this would be the stuff of nightmares for them—I’m an introvert & shy & I hate work gatherings like this, but I’d hate them with or without a domineering person like your wife’s partner present… and I don’t think it’s your job to “protect” your employees, even the ones who may hate talking to her and don’t know how to get out of it. I get that her being the boss’s wife might give her an unfair advantage, making people feel like they need to put up with her… but still. It’s four evenings out of the year. It’s not like they have to deal with this woman every day.

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m completely off base. I also like the “employees only” idea others have suggested, at least for one or two of these quarterly events… But whether or not you should talk to your partner—I think it depends so heavily on factors like your relationship with them, their relationship with their wife… so it’s hard for me to judge.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      On the flip side, I think the OP could subtly tell staff (either all at once, or selected people) to make sure to spend enough time mingling at these events, and not just talk to one person for a long time. That might help them feel like they can excuse themselves from her?

      1. Mazzieful*

        Alternatively, they can mention to her that there’s been a problem at a few of the events where people don’t mingle in enlist her help in making sure people do. They could give her the task of making sure people are taken care of and doing what they need to be doing

        Assuming, of course, that she’s capable of this

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Even if she’s not capable (which seems likely), it gives the OP a good cover for interrupting her. “Sorry, Jane, but I’m forcing Fergus to switch partners. I want people from our two offices to talk to each other.”

        2. Temperance*

          This doesn’t really work with people who drone on and on, though. She has to realize that people dislike her and avoid her, at this point.

    2. Rachel Green*

      I agree with everything you’ve said here! I think going employee’s only on all but one of the events is the best bet. If my spouse worked there and I was expected to attend 4 parties a year? It seems like a bit too much.

      1. ZVA*

        Yeah, for me, four a year even at my own workplace would be way too much! We have two such events at my office (one is a barbecue on site during the summer, and the other is a holiday party at a restaurant around Christmas) and that’s plenty for me.

      2. Sadsack*

        Yeah, I am guessing that most spouses will be relieved not to have to attend to many of these things.

      3. OP Here*

        Thanks Rachel for your comment. I hadn’t thought about this like this before. I wonder if we are doing too many per year.

    3. OP Here*

      Thanks for your comment ZVA. I don’t think you’re off-base. I think my wife would very much agree with you. Lily and Mazzieful’s suggestions below seem like they may be good options to try which encourages people to move around and mingle w/o trying to cause a very awkward situation with my partner or his spouse.

  31. Amber*

    I went to lunch with a group of coworkers recently and one of them was exactly like this. He talked the ENTIRE time. I’m not going to lunch with him anymore. It was boring and awkward.

  32. MuseumChick*

    1) I would make it clear to all the employees that they can and should walk away from her and that there will be NO negative consequences for doing so.

    2) Suggest to your partner most of these events should be employee for “team building” I would make the argument that spouses only come to one event.

    3) Intervene and save your employees when you see this happening, speak with her for 2 minuets then INTERRUPT her and say “Great talking you Jane, I have go see Fergus, enjoy the party.”

    Is there anyway you could point out this behavior as it’s happening to your business partner “Wow, Jane really loves talking about (her career/hobbies/cats/whatever).”

    1. Marisol*

      Re your first suggestion, that kind of coaching is useful for all social situations too. Even with normal conversationalists, it can be hard to know how to break away gracefully at a party or networking event, and being explicitly taught to say, “Great talking you Jane, I have go see Fergus, enjoy the party,” is a boon for the employees. (I’m kind of combining your 1st and 3rd points–I would teach employees what to say, and then let them know that if they had to take the drastic measure of simply walking away, as a last resort, it would be ok given the circumstances.)

    2. Turtle Candle*

      I agree that 1 would be really useful, but if this is a situation where the LW isn’t comfortable talking to the partner about it, I’m not sure how they’re going to be able to express “you can always just walk away from Lucinda, no repercussions” without it getting back to the partner (at which point it’s potentially more damaging to the relationship than bringing it up directly, I would think?). If you’re telling the whole company, I think the chance that it will get back to the partner is high.

      1. MuseumChick*

        I think I would feel more uncomfortable about confronting anyone, let alone a business partner, about their spouse than telling employees one-on-one that they can walk away.

        I think the OP should save that for when an employee approaches them about the wife, something like “I hear you and understand. I want to be very clear about this, you can walk away from her nothing bad will happened if you do. If you would like we can run through some ways to disengage.”

        I just don’t see anyway to talk to the business partner directly that would end well.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Well yeah, if it never gets back to him then it’s obviously more comfortable to drop a line in each employee’s ear. But if it does get back to him, you still have to have that awful conversation about his spouse being annoying, only now he knows that you’ve been talking to the rest of the company about it behind his back, and at that point I think it becomes much much worse.

          If you could be totally sure nobody would ever slip up and mention it in front of him, then yeah, okay. But I don’t know how to effectively spread the message and then keep it a total secret, or at least I wouldn’t have much faith in that state of affairs lasting very long.

      2. Marisol*

        Good point. Maybe it would depend how the OP approaches it. If he’s calling a company-wide meeting with a powerpoint presentation about it, yeah that’s harsh and too indiscreet. I’m assuming he’s hearing complaints from individual employees, to which he could respond by saying “any time you want to get away from a conversation, just say, “great talking to you…” etc. and proceed with the coaching. So he could address the issue generally without emphasizing that the wife specifically is causing problems. Then again, I’m not sure it would be so bad if it did get back to the partner, as it would provide a way for the OP to bring it up. So long as the OP didn’t say anything truly mean of course.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me, but while it would awkward and terrible and would sting to hear “This is an uncomfortable topic, but I’m just going to lay it on the table: Mr. Badger has a habit of doing [annoying thing] at company events, and it has a negative impact on our employees. What can we do to improve the situation?”….

          …it would be SO MUCH worse to find out that my partner was “managing” me and Mr. Badger behind our backs by either hiring someone to talk to him (as noted above) or going around telling everyone to just ignore him, even one by one. They would both be unpleasant to find out, but the second adds a layer of both mistrust (what else are you doing related to me that you won’t tell me?) and condescension (you really think I need to be managed by being kept in the dark about issues?). The former would sting. The latter would make me seriously reconsider whether I wanted to work with someone who “managed” my emotions like that.

          I’m sure other people would feel differently, but I just think that any solution that involves “managing” the partner’s wife without the partner knowing has the potential to blow up spectacularly, and I have relatively little faith that it could be handled in a way that wouldn’t eventually leak out. Especially if you’re telling all the employees–someone’s likely to slip up.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Mr. Turtle. Not Mr. Badger. In my defense, I was just reading an article about badgers, and apparently I cannot keep my animals straight today….

  33. Mazzieful*

    I also wonder if it’s possible for them to have activities that reward the employees but don’t require much interaction before or after. Go see a movie or concert, etc

    I know very few people who really enjoy cocktail parties with colleagues. Those who do either really love their colleagues and don’t need The team building anyway where they just really love alcohol

  34. Anthropologistista*

    My advice would be to read up on Wait versus Interrupt conversation styles (Deborah Tannen is a good start) and think about the way in which you communicate. My guess from your comments about it being one-sided at social events is that you (and your spouse) are Waiters, while your business partner’s spouse is an Interrupter. Now, one is not better than the other, it’s just different ways of having conversation. So while you’re waiting to be asked about your kids or travel plans or what you think about the latest gadget and getting upset that she’s not being considerate and making things one-sided, your business partner’s wife might be waiting for you to interject and participate in the conversation and perhaps thinking that you’re inconsiderate for not participating.

    So how do you deal with this? First I’d try to acknowledge that she’s not doing something to deliberately hurt and upset you and that she is not being inconsiderate – it’s just different ways of communicating. Second, when in these social situations with her and she starts dominating, interject with “Oh I have to interrupt you and tell you this great story…” or “That sounds so interesting but I really must go talk to SoandSo right now, catch you later” and walk away. As for others who get stuck or feel they can’t leave the conversation, that’s up to them to decide if they want to leave a conversation – don’t assume that because someone is talking to her for a long time that they aren’t interested.

    1. Brogrammer*

      This is a possibility, so it’s worth looking into, but it’s not a given. I know plenty of people who are just more interested in talking than listening. They’ll happily talk for an hour or more non-stop but get very testy if the person they’re talking at “interrupts” them.

      1. Artemesia*

        And alas as an Old myself, I can see that it is a habit increasingly common among older people. It has always been rare that I don’t get a word in edgewise but I have been in several settings recently with different groups of older friends, where it was clear that there was only talking and no listening.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, I do have to say, I know some people who are Interrupters, and while you do have to get comfortable just jumping into their flow, this sounds more serious than that. The Interrupters I know are capable of talking about something other than themselves, and show reasonable interest in the people around them (will ask questions of other people and listen, for instance). IME the Interrupters vs. Waiters distinction has to do with how many/how long of pauses you are used to leaving in your conversations, not in the topics at hand and focus of the conversation.

    2. TootsNYC*

      First I’d try to acknowledge that she’s not doing something to deliberately hurt and upset you and that she is not being inconsiderate – it’s just different ways of communicating.

      Or, if it’s not just a different way of communicating but is indeed some sort of compulsion (which is what I lean toward), it’s still not malicious. She’s not a horrible person. Wounded, maybe, but not automatically horrible.

      And she might be helped (whether it’s that sort of compulsion, or whether it’s just a different style) by having her monologues interrupted. She may feel horrible when she gets home and thinks about it. And she certainly doesn’t feel good even when she’s monologing, because people aren’t truly engaging with her.

    3. Silver Cormorant*

      My dad does this too. He’ll happily talk about himself for hours. If you’ve managed to start telling him a story of your own, he’ll interrupt a few minutes in with “that reminds me of…” and start talking about something only vaguely related to what you were saying for long enough that you forget what you were talking about. Half the time, this is a story he’s already told you once or twice (and sometimes he’ll even preface this by saying “I’ve probably told you about this already” and continue anyway). The only way to participate in the conversation is to start talking over him and keep going until he stops. It’s really awkward, but otherwise I’m smiling and nodding for hours until I have to interrupt him to go home at the end of the night.

      If I spend too much time around my dad, my sense of normal conversation cues gets really messed up and I start cutting other people off to say my own things. I normally wait for my turn in conversation to interject, but it can be hard to break that kind of habit.

  35. Anon 12*

    Give yourself and your spouse personal permission to interrupt and walk away without guilt. Chuckle about it privately and feel sorry for somebody with such limited social skills. Surely your partner is aware of this as he sees it in action and he knows that social invitations are being declined so he if he could say something or if she could be more self-aware and rein it in that would have happened. So just accept it as a fact of life and move on. Reducing the spouse included invitations or having them at a venue with an activity that necessitates people walking away to join the activity could help fill the gap for the bonding experience you were hoping to get out of these.

    1. C Average*


      Weird but true: One of the most useful life skills I acquired in college was the ability to gracefully exit a conversation. I was in a sorority, and during rush we each wanted to talk to as many rushees as much as possible to determine whether she was a fit for our house. So even if we were in the middle of a scintillating conversation, when we hit five minutes, we’d casually walk our conversation partner over to another person, saying something like “it’s been lovely getting to know you, but I need to go mingle now. I think you and Buffy will totally hit it off, though!” And then we’d walk away.

      I still use this all the damned time.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Big fan of the redirect. I’ll use the “I think y’all will like each other”, or “I need to freshen my drink”, or even just “It’s been lovely–please excuse me” and then just keep walking away. It’s a life-saver.

    2. Pontoon Pirate*

      I hope you’re not suggesting people should laugh about her behind her back. This sounds like an unfortunate situation for everyone, including her.

      1. Anon 12*

        No, that’s not what I meant. I meant between the OP and his spouse as in “okay, survived another work party”, not with other staff members to humiliate never ending talker.

    3. Artemesia*

      I agree. The spouse knows but can’t or won’t do anything about it. We have an acquaintance where the wife always responds to anything you say with something like ‘That’s completely wrong, this is what is the case yadda yadda yadda.” Not even politics — we agree there, but any darn thing. If you discuss some nutritional thing, you are wrong, or some new book, she has a strong aggressive opinion that differs. It is very tiring and she always interrupts. Her husband tries to rein her in a bit but she is just frustrating to be with. So we didn’t pursue friendship as we might have; I see her to walk to an exercise class and so forth but she isn’t one of the people I lunch with or visit museums with etc. People like this find themselves excluded from a lot of social circles.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Part of OP’s sticking point here could be that OP and spouse stopped seeing these two socially because of this very same problem. Now the problem has grown bigger and others are complaining.

        OP might be faced with the question, “Is this why the two of you stopped hanging out with us, also?”
        Now what does OP say.
        Choices are:
        a) Deny and just offer an excuse of being busy then hope for the best.
        b) Admit this is the reason and deal with what happens next.
        c) Sidestep and redirect the conversation so quickly that partner does not notice.

        I would be tempted to do a sidestep of sorts, “Well my wife and I did talk about that once, but that was not a major deal…. we have just been so busy with the new house/our pure bred dogs/sick auntie that we don’t have a lot of time for much socializing.”

  36. Mena*

    You are a small(er) business and need these events for team building and bonding. Including spouses introduces a distraction to all employees (is my spouse having a good time?) and this pulls away from their interaction with other employees. I suggest you take spouse attendance out of the mix all together, or just include spouses at the year-end event. This solves your immediate problem and likely sets up for greater team interaction, particularly integrating those remote employees with their colleagues.

  37. Rachel Green*

    I think the babysitter ideas mentioned aren’t really practical, especially if you have to get someone to volunteer for it, or else pay for it. And if you’re paying for a babysitter for the partner’s wife, how would you explain the extra expense to the partner? Would you hide the expense from him? I just don’t see how this is a feasible option.

    Alternately, you could have a conversation with your partner about his wife’s behavior. But, it’s unlikely that the partner isn’t already aware of it. He’s married to her for goodness sake, and she’s probably behaved this way for years. So, the behavior is probably pretty ingrained and I would prepare for the possibility that talking to your partner isn’t going to change anything. Because really, what can he do that he probably hasn’t already tried already? Or maybe he accepted his wife’s behavior long ago and isn’t willing to address it at all.

    I think your best bet is just to limit the number of events where spouses attend. Four parties a year sounds like a lot anyway. Make 3/4 of those parties employees only and do one big annual party and invite spouses to that. If you want your more remote employees to feel more involved then you can keep some kind of quarterly get-together, but do it during work hours and don’t invite spouses.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      I’m also wondering what the agenda is for these gatherings. Are all four just cocktail hours where people mingle and talk? Perhaps a more structured agenda – a white elephant gift exchange at the xmas party, a presentation of awards at the summer BBQ, whatever – would guarantee that nobody is stuck talking to her for the whole time, because there’s a “sit and listen to a speaker” portion or activity that allows people the chance to not talk / escape.

      Personally I don’t feel terrible if someone might be trapped for 20 minutes before there’s a chance to switch it up, but I would feel bad if someone was stuck with her literally all night. Create events where this is not possible.

      1. Chickaletta*

        ^This. Parties that are just mingling for hours on end are boring anyway. On NYE I went a party at a home that began at 7pm with a pot luck, then nothing else happened until midnight. I was stuck talking with the same people for FIVE hours, and it was torture. I know that’s how most American’s hold their parties but there’s only so much you can say. I read somewhere that a cocktail party should last for one hour max and be followed by another event (dinner, going to a show, etc).

        Personally, I think the American tradition of talking and drinking for several hours is just an extension of the way American teenagers hold “parties” since they don’t have the option of going out because of the drinking age. Parties in other parts of the world involve dancing, a performance, games, or some sort of entertainment besides just sitting and talking, and part of the reason is exactly to avoid the sort of problem OP has.

        1. TootsNYC*

          little children’s parties involve games and activities, but for some reason (as with bright colors), grownups are expected to “put away childish things.”

        2. AnonEMoose*

          My husband and I went to a friend’s house for NYE. They started at noon, but it was very much a “show up when you want” sort of thing. In different areas of the house, they had movies playing, and tables set up for people to play games. Or people could sit and talk. It was nice, because there was stuff to do, but you could circulate through various activities and interact with different people with no pressure.

          So we saw in 2017 with friends, a round of my new “Labyrinth” board game (based on the movie), and then Cards Against Humanity. Parties like that, I can handle and even enjoy, because I wasn’t feeling crowded and wasn’t overwhelmed due to noise, bright lights, and so on.

        3. Lemon*

          Wow, thank you! You’ve just put into words the problem that I have with almost all the parties I’ve attended as an adult. I could never quite put my finger on why I don’t really like parties, but this is pretty much it. There needs to be something to do! Especially if it’s a gathering that pulls together people from different social groups who are only connected by the person holding the party.

          1. Artemesia*

            We do two kinds of socializing usually. Dinner parties which tend to run about 4 hours — cocktails for an hour and a half or so, dinner and chatting until time to go — and dinners out followed by a play or film and sometimes the reverse e.g. an afternoon film with dinner after. We love small dinner parties precisely for the conversation and do pay attention to who is invited i.e. there are people we mix with particular other people. I would find party games and the like annoying. To each his own. I do find larger parties with a random mix of people kind of tedious but dinner parties with friends are just the best way to spend an evening for us.

            1. Lemon*

              I totally agree with you. I love dinner parties. They tend to be smaller with a more curated guest list (consideration for who will get along well sitting around a table together), and there’s actually something to do (eat). Party games are pretty annoying, except under some very specific circumstances. When I said I don’t like parties, I was specifically thinking about “larger parties with a random mix of people”.

              You’ve inspired me to host more dinner parties!

            2. Marisol*

              I have a similar sensibility, although I don’t actually attend many social functions as I’d like because I’m often tired from my work week. But to me the conversation IS the activity. If I have a bad time at a party, it’s because I didn’t enjoy the people specifically, not because I don’t like parties in general.

  38. The Great Gazoo*

    Is she just really nervous in social situations and terrified of an ‘awkward silence’? Just giving her some benefit of the doubt here.

    I was once introduced to a famous sportsperson at an event. Full disclosure — I had no interest in his sport, but having just watched him play I felt obliged to enthuse about his performance. The conversation went like this:

    MY PARTNER: Great Gazoo, this is Team Captain.
    ME: I don’t know anything about competitive gumboot throwing, but watching that game today was amazing.
    TEAM CAPTAIN: Thank you, Great Gazoo, that’s very kind. I’m glad you enjoyed the match. Please excuse me, I’m expected to network at these black-tie functions and I’ve just made eye-contact with someone I have to talk to. Enjoy the rest of your evening.
    ME: You too.

    That dude has to extricate himself from small talk and over-enthusiastic fans ALL THE TIME and he is clearly great at it. You could follow his lead, OR you could put your index finger over your partner’s wife’s mouth and whisper, “Husssshhh now, hush. No one cares. Sshhhhh….” and slowly back away from her while maintaining eye contact.

  39. Delta Delta*

    Here’s the problem. This lady is probably incredibly insecure. Nothing can not be about her because of her insecurity. I would bet at home she’s totally normal, or even quiet. There probably isn’t any way to get through to her that she needs to cool it without hurting her feelings, and there probably isn’t a way to say it nicely to the partner, either. I’d bet the partner always says in the car on the way, “Lucinda, really try to keep it in check tonight” and she promises but then can’t stop herself.

    I was once at a board meeting where someone droned on and on about a story they had previously told several times. Nobody knew how to cut this off. I dropped my pen and when I went to pick it up, fell out of my chair. This caused a little bit of a ruckus. When I assured people I was ok (the droner had paused), I saw an opportunity to say, “oh, right, weren’t we next going to talk about the teapot scandal?” or whatever. It was enough of a break that we could shift gears and it stopped the talker. I do not recommend this strategy for possible injury reasons (would be a really funny workers comp claim, though), but it worked in the situation I had.

    1. E*

      Your story made me think of a less painful excuse to exit a conversation. You could spill something on yourself, even just water, and then have to go to the restroom for a break. Hopefully she wouldn’t follow.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Variation: if possible, burst into tears. Cause yourself to be reminded of your late great pet, or the movie Beaches, or whatever brings the waterworks. Run to the restroom to freshen up. Return and avoid the talker.

      2. Kai*

        Now I’m imagining the business partner’s wife going home at the end of the evening and wondering why everyone she talked to at the party was so clumsy.

    2. Kai*

      Ha! Not that I would really recommend it either, but I could totally imagine myself spilling my drink just to get out of an awkward conversation.

    3. Artemesia*

      I don’t think people like this are really so much insecure as self absorbed. Some people just narrate the trivia of their lives and some people are more composed. Some people make a big dramatic story out of little every day occurrences so that every tiny detail is told with a great flurry of excitement so they are late and then 10 minutes of details about the precise traffic issues they faced, when someone else might say, ‘Sorry I’m late, the traffic was terrible’ or say nothing at all. And when they have less than fascinating lives, it is excruciating. The boorish wilderness explorer at least is nattering on about something moderately interesting. The person recounting their dry cleaning, and the purchase of new storage containers for the kitchen or their problems with the parking garage is the killer. Not insecure, selfish. Self absorbed.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        My wise friend used to say that people who are self-focused are usually folks who are barely surviving from one day to the next. I found this very helpful for many reasons. It makes me think before I speak for one thing. And if I see someone else self-focused like that I start asking myself “what is it like to be them?”
        Not that this is super helpful in the long run, but it does redirect my thoughts away from my own irritation with the situation and it causes me to think about their perspective.

        Some folks just do not have have it in them to show much concern for others or to share with others. OP and partner’s wife are two totally opposite people in this regard. OP clearly cares about the people around him.

    4. Cath in Canada*

      My university flatmates and I evolved a great system for instantly shutting down repeats of stories we’d all heard before – we’d all yell “TELETHON” and the person would say “OOPS SORRY” and change the subject. This came from one friend who told us the same story (about how she met Prince Charles at a telethon event when she was 13) every time she had more than one glass of wine. The term became generic after we realised that we all had our own “telethon story” and agreed to try to train ourselves out of the habit.

      Falling out of a chair seems like it should become a similarly generic tactic :D

  40. boop the first*

    So… what’s your business partner’s stance on all this? He could just not bring her with if he saw this as a real problem. Is she a business person herself, and considers this her only chance at networking?

    Some people were saying that having a chatty person at a party is an introvert’s nightmare, but honestly, with the social anxiety sometimes it’s actually a relief to be stuck in a one-sided conversation. All I have to do is make reaction faces/sounds and suddenly it looks like I’m actually successful at a party, instead of hovering near the food never talking to anyone like some curmudgeon. This may not be the huge liability you think it is. Play matchmaker and introduce her to someone you dislike.

  41. Noah*

    I would trust your employees to handle this situation like grown-ups, which it seems they are already doing.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      But it’s unreasonable to expect your employees to handle it like grown-ups when your partner’s wife isn’t.

      Grown-ups use their words, and the OP can use their words to talk to the partner, and the partner can use their words to talk to their wife.

  42. animaniactoo*

    I didn’t have time to read through everything, so apologies if this has been suggested upthread.

    You need to manage the situation without looking like you’re managing the situation. Mostly, that’s going to mean “spreading the pain around”.

    What that would look like is *planning* to interrupt and bring fresh “victims” with you so that they can be swapped out. So you and Jim from sales walk over and “Hi, I couldn’t help hearing that….” “Mrs Chatterbox, have you met?…” and relieving the victim who has done their turn “Agnes, I think Wallis was looking for you earlier, have you talked to them yet?” (thereby creating the opening for them to leave…).

    If you can tap a couple of other people to be interrupters, it will work even better because then you’re not always the person interrupting the conversations that Mrs Chatterbox is having, it’s more “the natural flow of a party” kind of thing. You also don’t have to get all your volunteer victims in advance – you can casually say “I’m going to rescue Horace. Will you come with me? I could use some company on this mission…” and most of the time people will be willing to go along.

    One of the keys to this – and making sure you’re not offending your business partner, and not being mean and condescending about his wife in an attitude that spreads to other employees, is to stress that this is who she is and you’re just rescuing people because she’s a lovely woman but most people aren’t up to her level of talking. You’re shooting for sympathy on both sides of the aisle here – both for the trapped and for the woman who just likes to talk and talk and talk and talk.

    1. EW*

      Also haven’t read through the comments…

      I feel like this is a great reason to get overall feedback on these celebratory events! Is there something different you could be doing that employees would enjoy? Hopefully there’s a couple employees that you have a good enough report with that they would feel comfortable opening up to you in confidence. I’m thinking doing an activity based event (bowling is the only thing that comes to mind, something where people who want to participate can, but others can just chit chat) might help with this spouse – oh look it’s my turn to bowl!

      IDK, I think four nights a year may not be the worst thing in the world to just deal with.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I agree with the “active management of a known problem” technique.

      Also, I like the point about the employees learning to extricate themselves–I don’t think it’s out of line for you to coach and encourage people a little. Give them the script, suggest they do it, reassure them that it’s OK. It’s actually an opportunity for growth in that area.

  43. Lady Blerd*

    The chatty wife is the partner’s responsibility and it should be up to him to manager her. OP is in the best position to broach this topic with him (I’m assuming the business partners are male). He should explain the discomfort she causes and how some may not be comfortable walking away from her since she indirectly does have a bit of power over the employees, rightly or not.

    Although others have suggested doing activities without the spouses, I wouldn’t be surpised if she still comes so that may not fix the situations plus maybe your employees enjoy such mixed gatherings so.

    Having said all that, the employees should work on their skills to walk away from awkward interactions even if it means coming up with some alleged activity that needs my immediate attention. But as I say above, some may feel a power dynamic that keeps them rooted while she drones on so I understand why some may not have the fortitude to do so.

  44. Ad Exec*

    I once worked with a company where the CEO’s wife would get drunk, hit on and try to grind with all the male employees.

    It was an ad agency, so parties are definitely “harder” than your average workplace event, with most people ending up in various degrees of inebriation but…still.

  45. Clever Name*

    What about framing it as making sure ownership pays everyone some attention? Could you tell the white lie that you want to make sure everyone feels welcome and appreciated, so all the partners and spouses should make an effort to try to talk to everyone personally. That works out to what, 20 minutes before it is time to move on? Frame it less as people can’t get away and more as, everyone should get your personal attention for awhile so as not to feel left out?

    1. Delta Delta*

      This is a great idea. That way, also, all the employees feel good about having had a chance to talk to the people in ownership. Maybe they don’t all want to talk to the spouses, necessarily, but probably would want to talk to the partners, at least for a few minutes. A bonus morale-booster!

  46. LDSang*

    The fact that the talker is the wife of the business owner/executive, there is another layer here that complicates the situation. It may very well be the case that those individuals who want to walk away but don’t, feel that they can’t because a sleight to the boss’s wife will negatively affect them back in the workplace. I think that if the OP has a reasonable relationship with the business partner, there should be a conversation as there is potential for negative impact to their employees.

    I also agree with some of the other posters that this situation is likely not limited to these four social events. I would assume that this is the talker’s standard operating procedure and a conversation may help get to the heart of the matter — anxiety, awkwardness, narcissism, borderline personality disorder, or simple lack of awareness — all of which can be improved with outside help.

    And as one of those introverted, socially awkward individuals, one or two instances of this imprisonment and I would start finding excuses for not attending future events.

  47. TootsNYC*

    It’s only four events a year (I agree w/ the idea of trying to make some of them employee-only), and the problem is a known one.

    Maybe you and your wife can be the people who interrupt her and whisk her victims away to another conversation. Maybe that’s the focus of your evening. It’s a pain, yes, but I think it’s also in line with the idea of these being company parties,a nd the good of the organization being your major goal (as opposed to socializing and enjoying yourself).

    Since you know the problem, you can practice the script, and prepare in all the other ways.

    This sounds compulsive (poor lady! imagine what it must be like inside her head), and I don’t think you can change her; neither can your business partner.
    In “can’t change this” situations, you focus on:
    minimizing (fewer events w/ spouses) and
    buffering (stepping in to say, “Joan, let’s let Wakeen go get some hors d’oeuvres” or in a friendly tone, “You’ve had the floor a bit, Joan–I have a question for Louise–Louise, how was your vacation?”) and
    managing expectations (remind people that it’s time to stop thinking she ought to be a different sort of person, and deal with the person she truly is–that’s not approval, it’s simply realism)

    I do that at my job w/ someone who makes a lot of late changes, and we can’t change that. So I staff appropriately (minimizing), give comp time (buffering), and play down the outrage (yes, it’s annoying, but let’s focus on getting through it, because we’re not in a position to affect this).

  48. SadieMae*

    I wouldn’t say anything to the partner or his wife. She isn’t doing anything inappropriate/harassing/immoral – she’s just kind of obnoxious. I would instead go with having three of the four annual events be employees-only (sounds like the point of having so many events is that colleagues from different offices can meet and talk in person, so surely the spouses are extraneous here? In fact, I’m guessing many of the spouses resent being asked to attend four yearly events for their spouses’ work anyway! I would. Once a year is enough.)

    Then at the annual holiday party, just smile and nod for a while when you talk to the business partner’s wife, then excuse yourself and let someone else endure her for a while. When you only have to navigate this once a year, it’ll seem a lot less onerous, I promise. Good luck!

  49. Queen Anne of Cleves*

    I can’t imagine what realistic positive outcome could come from talking to the partner about his spouse. At a minimum you cause friction between yourself and your partner. What is the partner supposed to say exactly to the spouse? I would definitely not talk to the employees because the partner will eventually find out and that will create more awkwardness and tension. This is just one of “those things” that has to be tolerated and each individual has to figure out for themselves how to deal with it. You could be the one who redirects and intervenes but that is the extent of what you can do. Or, I do like the idea of giving the spouse a task. Auctioneer comes to mind. The potential consequences outweigh the potential benefit in my opinion.

    1. Ruthie*

      I agree. Sometimes the right thing to do is just tolerate other’s personality quirks. And keep in mind that what’s unbearable to you could be just mildly annoying to others. I have a family member who does something similar and sometimes I can’t stand to be in the same room as them. But it doesn’t offend other people in my family as much. We all have different pet peeves and different tolerances.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      What is the partner supposed to say to the spouse?
      (I assume you mean husband to wife.)

      Honey, dial it back, okay?

      Wife, you need to let people have a chance to speak, also.

      Hey, here’s a book on how to be a better conversationalist. Something we all could learn more about, let me know what you think of the book. I’m going to read it, too.

  50. Robbie Jordan*

    This is a tough one, many feeling involved.
    I would discuss with my operating partner straight up, tactfully but a must, he may or may not be aware, while it may be difficult or sensitive you are in business together.
    Taking any other approach, like having discussion with the team or employees and making any other decisions would be in my opinion going behind your partners back. Allowing team members to discuss and not addressing will undermine his position as partner as well as your position in the company.
    Trust is business with your partner or partners is paramount, trust from your team that you can and will address uncomfortable situations is important as well.

  51. Cautionary tail*

    I feel for ya’ buddy. We have someone who talks incessantly and ignores anything that anyone else says. One time she called the house as I was about to leave and I silently groaned when I heard her voice. I informed her that the person she wanted to talk to was not home and she just kept talking. I had things to do so I gently laid the phone down and left. 10 minutes later I returned and she was still talking with no clue that nobody was even on the other end of the line.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I did this once with a person in my life. I picked the phone up randomly to “uhhuh” or “hmm” and set it back down again. The caller never noticed.

    2. Maxwell Edison*

      I knew someone who had a bunch of index cards printed with things like:

      I did not know that.
      And then what happened?
      I’m not sure.

      She’d shuffle the index cards and read from them every so often when her mother called and rambled at her. I keep a mental list of these phrases and use them whenever the various Chatty Cathys in my life talk at me.

  52. Lee*

    Apologies if this has already been suggested, but you could make the events for work employees only, no spouses.
    If that doesn’t work, you could start coughing uncontrollably whenever she goes into a long spiel when talking with you and then walk away.
    Also, some people like talkers ( I do). I wouldn’t presume everyone is put off her.

  53. Marisol*

    OP, you have my sympathies. As someone who hates to interrupt people and who values sensitive listening in conversation, I have a big problem with the behavior you describe. It is absolutely excruciating listening to someone drone on and on about themselves. I would go so far as to characterize the behavior as abusive.

  54. AnotherHRPro*

    As a partner, you need to address this. That is part of the job. It should be brought up delicately and privately but you should talk to your partner about this. I’m sure your partner knows that his wife is a talker but he will probably still be put off by the conversation. This does not mater if you really believe that your organization, your employees, are frustrated. After all, these are work events. And as she is one of the boss’s wives, your employees will not feel empowered to walk away mid-conversation.

    Others have mentioned limiting the “plus spouse” events. That is harder to judge without knowing your company and the culture. But it isn’t a bad idea unless your employees would resent that and feel it is a benefit that you are taking away.

  55. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Honestly, if you’ve got any kind of rapport at all with your co-owner, I would talk to them first. If nothing else, it might give you some perspective on what’s going on here. Also, depending on what their response is, it would give you a better sense of how this can be managed going forward.

    It might just be me, but I loathe Neverending Talkers. I’ve got a good friend who tends to do it, and I’ve had to perform a very intricate dance of only seeing her in person on rare occasions while not making her feel like I don’t value her, simply because spending time in her company means listening to a neverending stream of blather that tends to loop back on itself like the flight path of a particularly disoriented starling swarm. And I like her!!! Doing it with someone I was socially obligated to be around and who had a position of relative social power over me? Ugh, shudder…

    Mostly, my feeling is that if possible, it’s better to fix the missing stair rather than put up a “mind the gap” sign. Meaning, if indications from talking to your partner seem good, getting her to fix her behavior rather than looking for her to get a babysitter or telling lower-level employees that they should break normal social rules because she’s an unmanageable boor. Talk to your partner — does the partner see the problem? Do they recognize that it’s causing an issue? Do they have any suggestions? Have they tried anything on their own to manage this issue?

  56. Username has gone missing*

    I’m surprised by all the people saying you can’t talk to the business partner because it’s family/it’s his wife/it’s personal.

    Nuh-uh. It stops being personal the second he brings her to a work event. Employees are expected to conduct themselves with decorum at work events so they should also reasonably expect not to be tormented.

    Either he doesnt get that his wife does this and needs to be told, or he does and has knowingly inflicted her on his employees. What I don’t get is why so many people are advocating keeping quiet to spare his feelings – no family does not just trump everything else.

    He married her, his staff did not.

    1. Marisol*

      I think people are bowing to the political realities that such a conversation, while justified, could nonetheless have undesired repercussions. We don’t know whether or not they will, but it would be a mistake not to allow for that possibility. Although I do think he should take some sort of action rather than suffer through the problem, it’s prudent to consider the risks.

  57. Charlie*

    How about simply….not having parties? I hate to break it to you, but company parties are work; even if they’re not unpleasant, they’re not a chance to unwind and boost morale. Nobody is unwinding, even before Lucinda talks at them for 45 minutes straight. Give everybody a holiday bonus with the money you’d otherwise spend, if you care about morale.

    Failing that, why not have regular happy hours immediately after work?

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      I think the parties are the only times they’re able to get the entire remote crew together. Happy hour outings might be fun, but they don’t fulfill the function that the parties do.

    2. Marisol*

      It seems the majority of the people on this site don’t like company parties, but some people do. I personally love our company parties; we have two each year, and I genuinely look forward to spending time with my colleagues and catching up with people from other departments that I don’t see that much. I don’t particularly care about spouses though, and wouldn’t mind if the plus-ones were eliminated. But I don’t think it’s accurate to say that nobody is unwinding. Some of us are!

  58. Milla*

    Some situations can’t be changed, only managed.
    This woman won’t stop talking, so change the situation around her.
    A big one would be to start suggesting spouse-free work activities and events so she isn’t invited in the first place. Cite costs and team building as the reasons. Or have events where there’s an activity that gets in the way of talking, such as an escape room or whatever.
    On occasions where she must be invited, but you need to avoid being trapped so you can work by talking to clients/contacts, either ask your spouse or the lowest person on the office totem pole to fall on the sword to distract this woman for the evening and keep her away from important clients. Afterwords, thank them profusely for the favor.
    Giving her an ‘important’ task that keeps the woman herself busy, such as requesting she monitor the circulating waitstaff or greet people as they come in “because she’s so personable,” would also be a good way of managing her interactions with guests while feeding her need to be center stage. (be careful not to give offense with this one, and it may backfire if she gets her hands on a microphone)
    If you are not required to perform some sort of work during the event, you’ll just need to suck it up and manage your interactions with her using the normal social contrivances, such as seeing someone across the room you must go say hello to, having a previous errand you’re in the middle of, or suddenly becoming thirsty. Just don’t be rude, she’s the boss’s wife.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I really, really would not throw this on the “lowest person on the office totem pole.” For several reasons. First, this may be someone who has neither the experience nor the social capital to handle this effectively. Second, if you are in this position, it’s even harder to say no to this kind of request from a boss, so to me it feels icky from a power dynamics perspective. Third, the person in this position is often “asked” to do things that no one else has time to do or wants to do, many of them unpleasant.

      Again, strictly my opinion, but it seems like dumping on the person who tends to get dumped on anyway. “Come to the party and celebrate – oh, but you don’t actually get to enjoy yourself, you get stuck with another sucky thing no one else wants to deal with. And what do you get in return? I’ll say ‘thanks’ and really mean it.”

      Sorry, I know this is probably sounding harsh, but having been the person in that position more than once, and not being well-equipped to handle someone like this for hours at a time, I’ll admit this is raising my hackles a bit.

  59. Kim*

    Here is what I’d do… Involve the partner’s wife in the planning of the event. Flatter her. Say “Partner’s Wife, we are having trouble getting our staff to socialize with one anther. Can you help us plan an event that will pave the way for people to talk and throughout the night float around to help people and groups match up and talk. We really want our staff to get to know one another…” Maybe this would at least keep her moving.

  60. Stellaaaaa*

    I used to be a huge talker. A lot of it was situational…I was single and didn’t have the daily incidental interactions you get from a partner. I was working remotely full-time. My friends were busy with spouses and kids, and my family is estranged. It all added up so that I’d go weeks without saying words out loud to anyone who wasn’t a bank teller or Target cashier. You don’t have to have some huge major flaw to find yourself in a situation where you don’t have an outlet for basic expression. So there’s your background, I guess.

    I only got it under control when people started telling me to knock it off. There’s no way around it. You need to just put a smile on your face and say, “Hey, I want to talk about myself for a minute!”

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      Which is to say that when you don’t get to talk to anyone for a long time, you kinda go nuts when you suddenly find yourself surrounded by people. That story you never got to tell a month ago when it happened? Now you have people you can tell it to, even though you probably shouldn’t.

    2. RVA Cat*

      This sounds a lot like one of my relatives, who never married and is now retired. Can. Not. Shut. Up.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        Yep, you really have to make the effort to turn it off but it can be done. I’m not sure I would have known to do it if people hadn’t told me though.

        It’s rough to have people come down on a component of your personality, especially when it’s harmless but mostly just annoying. There are a lot of worse traits out there that aren’t pinpointed as being as negative as merely being super chatty is. It’s easy enough to manage once you’re in the habit, I suppose.

  61. Yikes!*

    I’m a teapot engineer. Very introverted. I could absolutely NOT handle this. Ew. I would quit any job that required this. Please, for the love of all that is good in the world, end the parties. Instead, give the employees a 2 hour lunch on special occasions and cater it. Or give then gift certificates to local restaurants that they could enjoy without the co-workers that they already spend more time with than their families.
    If you MUST have after work parties – ew- at least make sure it’s voluntary.

    1. AMT*

      Yep. The issue of the blabbermouth spouse obscures the larger issue of having four mandatory after-hours work events every year. Moreover, it sounds like it’s purely celebratory (i.e. not for clients), so it doesn’t make sense to make everyone attend if they’re not excited about it. +1000 for the catered lunch idea!

        1. Yikes!*

          When the remote employees are in town, they could have the lunch during working hours with local employees. If the people are traveling, it doesn’t matter when they get together with their co-workers, and that way everyone’s evenings are free.

  62. Kms1025*

    I apologize if I missed this answer, but is it really “everyone” who perceives the partner’s wife this way, or just OP? Sometimes it’s easy to project “and everyone thinks so”, when really most other people shrug it off? 4 times a year is not enough to jeapordize a partner agreement over and other responsible adults are generally able to fend for themselves in social or even quasi-social settings. She’s not victimizing anyone.

    1. OP Here*

      Thanks for your comment Kms1025. I definitely perceive this as does several ex-employees, their spouses, and my spouse. I have never gotten direct feedback on this topic from a current employee. But you’re right, four times a year doesn’t seem like much. But it’s 100% of the time that all of the team is together so it feels like a lot when we’re thinking about getting everyone together.

      I like some of the ideas for having less events altogether and possibly limiting spouses to one event a year.

  63. Mae*

    I have a different perspective. Propose a schedule of team-building activities (like True Colors or Speed of Trust) for these events with only bathroom breaks in between. Allow for a half hour of mingling at the end. Escape.

  64. Observer*

    Are these events mandatory? If they are, you need to rethink this anyway. If they are unofficially mandatory, you need to change that – either people need to be there or you need to make it perfectly clear that they come or not, as they please. That needs to be for real. That’s true regardless of what you do about Blabermouth.

    This could also solve the problem for you. If the event is REALLY optional, people who can’t deal with her, or who fund her really difficult can opt out, just as you opt out of events. If it means that everyone winds up declining to come, then so be it.

    That assumes that your partner is a reasonable person. There was recently a letter from a person who was very offended that staff at one of her husband’s companies had had the temerity to decline to come to their party for the other company and “underhandedly” had a pot luck lunch in the office, instead. That LW was very clear that this showed that the staff was “ungrateful” and “untrustworthy”. If that’s likely to happen, then you don’t have much choice, imo. You’re going to need to tell your partner that you are explicitly giving people permission to walk away from Blabbermouth Wife, and that you will not allow people to be punished for perceived rudeness OR you are going to have to make these parties staff only, and include owner’s wives in the prohibition.

    1. OP Here*

      Thanks for your comment Observer. The events are not mandatory. Most people come to most events, but not everyone comes to all of them. But, you bring up a good question for me: Do people feel they are mandatory? That, I don’t actually know. I assumed that because some people would miss one or two a year they knew it wasn’t, but I’m not sure if there’s a lot of pressure on them in making that decision and then putting them in an awkward position.

  65. K*

    I agree with the people who have mentioned that assigning/hiring someone to handle the wife for the whole party or encouraging all your employees to walk away from her when necessary would become incredibly awkward if/when your partner finds out about it. I think the safest options are:

    1. Structure the party in a way that makes it difficult for her to trap people all night. (Either by having games for everyone or by making her responsible for some aspect of the party that keeps her too busy for long conversations.)
    2. Have a “babysitter”, BUT it must be you, or possibly your wife if she can put up with it. If it’s anyone else, there’s too much of a chance of it coming out eventually. (Also it will be much less weird for your partner if he finds out that you’ve been personally dealing with his wife vs if he finds out that you’ve assigned someone else to deal with his wife.). Obviously this will not be fun for you, but if you really feel like this is a serious problem, it might be necessary for you to take one for the team.
    3. If it’s really a big concern and/or you think your partner won’t take it too badly, talk to him about it.

  66. Deathstar*

    How bout rostering staff to take on a certain period with her? If you can’t beat’em … so a) it limits the chances of her doing the same to business contacts; and b) nobody is stuck with her endlessly because someone will relieve the shift?
    I say this because we have business events where there ARE these types that you can’t ever tell to go away or don’t come please because they are your partners/associates (let alone a spouse), so why not take turns in the “dance”?

  67. Alice*

    I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe this was addressed with an update from the OP – why are we assuming staff are afraid to excuse themselves when Boring Wife gets started? Or that they are afraid to decline the invitation? If either of those things are true, then OP, as a partner, has the the power and a duty to change them. But why can’t people just say, “excuse me, I must speak to person X” or “I won’t be there but I hope it’s a great party”?

  68. Anony-mouse*

    Give her a job to do at these events. Keep her busy. Could be Official Greeter, Entertainment Coordinator, Champagne Orderer, etc. Keep her very, VERY busy.

  69. Tavie*

    Your business partner’s wife sounds like my dad.

    I love my dad, but long ago we learned not to invite him to social outings and to limit his potential “audiences” among our own friends and associates.

    He’s undiagnosed but I’m pretty sure it’s a personality disorder of some kind. I love him dearly but growing up with that was a challenge. Trying to imagine the nightmare of having to deal with him in a professional setting… my sympathies to you.

  70. Jess*

    Junior employees don’t need your help to politely excuse themselves from this lady: “Oh, pardon me, Margo, it’s been lovely catching up but I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me. I see Frederick and there’s something I need to talk to him about/I just noticed they’re bringing out cream puffs and I’m dying for one/It’s getting late and I’m afraid I’m about to turn into a pumpkin/whatever. It’s been a real pleasure. Take good care.” Delivered with a genuine smile and a hand on her upper arm she won’t feel dismissed or cut off and the employee is free to go. This is just normal social interaction stuff. I’m sure the other folks can handle it; is there really a need for a big discussion and strategizing behind her back? To my mind, it’s up to the people she’s talking to to leave the conversation if they don’t want to keep listening. It’s okay.

  71. Barbara Lander*

    I’m wondering if partner’s wife otherwise never gets out! At my old company we often entertained customers at our expense and one customer would always, always bring his wife along. I swear I don’t think she ever had a drink or a restaurant meal that her husband actually paid for. So I would suggest that four parties with spouses each year is too many. If the response is, oh, wife so looks forward to these, then I would ask whether they don’t ever go out otherwise. I just bring this up because this particular dynamic doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone else.

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